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Missouri's GOP Senate Incumbent Faces Challenge From Gun-Loving Democrat


Republicans are trying to hold on to a slim majority in the U.S. Senate. And one of the states they're worried about is Missouri. Their Republican incumbent, Roy Blunt, is seeking a second term and running neck-and-neck with his Democratic challenger, Jason Kander. Peggy Lowe of member station KCUR reports that in a state with some of the most lenient gun laws in the country, it's the Democrat who's bragging about his skill with firearms.

PEGGY LOWE: It's one of the most talked about political ads of the year. There's Jason Kander, a tall, thin 35-year-old, standing behind a desk in an abandoned warehouse. He's snapping together an AR-15 rifle - blindfolded.


JASON KANDER: Senator Blunt has been attacking me on guns. Well, in the Army, I learned how to use and respect my rifle.

LOWE: Kander is a former Army captain who volunteered after 9/11. He puts the rifle together in 22 seconds, takes off the blindfold and throws down a challenge.


KANDER: I also believe in background checks, so that terrorists can't get their hands on one of these. I approved this message because I'd like to see Senator Blunt do this.

LOWE: Welcome to the ad wars in Missouri. Just last month, the Republican-controlled legislature here passed a law that allows citizens to carry concealed weapons in public without a permit. A New York Times editorial called Missouri the shoot me state.

STEVE GLORIOSO: The ad has gone viral because it underscores the fact that Kander's not anti-Second Amendment, he's not anti-gun.

LOWE: Steve Glorioso has run U.S. Senate campaigns for several Democrats. He says the ad is a political party turnabout on two levels. The first is gun rights, obviously. But Kander is also poking at Blunt for his lack of military service. He took three college deferments during the Vietnam War. The ad is...

GLORIOSO: Basically channeling Blunt to hey, big boy. (Laughter) You're so pro-gun, I bet you couldn't do this with a blindfold on.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Some people can put together a gun blindfolded. Some do it really fast. Some really, really fast. Some do it upside down and blindfolded.

LOWE: The Blunt campaign came back with an ad that mocked Kander Dr. Seuss-style. And the National Rifle Association, which has endorsed Blunt, has spent a million dollars on ads so far, more than any other congressional race except Ohio. At least some Missouri gun owners are torn.

CHRIS WELLS: Shooter ready. Assess. Fire.


WELLS: Sight. Fire.


WELLS: Scan and assess. Place the firearm on safe. Re-holster (ph). All right, good job, good job.

LOWE: Chris Wells is teaching a class on a recent Saturday at a gun range about a half-hour north of Kansas City. A former Army combat medic, Wells is now an NRA-certified instructor. He hasn't decided who he will vote for.

WELLS: The reality is, is I know Roy Blunt's record as being extremely pro-Second Amendment. But I also know that Jason Kander is a combat veteran, who clearly has an ability with a firearm.

LOWE: Wells says the idea of a background check to keep firearms out of the hands of terrorists appeals to him. But as a lifelong NRA member, he worries that could go too far.

WELLS: You have to understand that there needs to be governance, but maybe not over governance. Which I think is what they're afraid of happening, and why they give people like Jason Kander, even though he is familiar with firearms, an F rating.

LOWE: Both sides are dumping lots of money into the state. Although Blunt has a 2 to 1 fundraising edge, Democratic outside groups recently spent roughly $5 million for Kander. For NPR News, I'm Peggy Lowe in Kansas City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peggy Lowe joined Harvest Public Media in 2011, returning to the Midwest after 22 years as a journalist in Denver and Southern California. Most recently she was at The Orange County Register, where she was a multimedia producer and writer. In Denver she worked for The Associated Press, The Denver Post and the late, great Rocky Mountain News. She was on the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage of Columbine. Peggy was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan in 2008-09. She is from O'Neill, the Irish Capital of Nebraska, and now lives in Kansas City. Based at KCUR, Peggy is the analyst for The Harvest Network and often reports for Harvest Public Media.