Who's The Strongest Of Them All? This is the second installment of The Notebook's monthly survey of the 7th Congressional District field and each candidate's chances of winning the GOP nomination in 2010.
The higher the candidate's ranking, the more likely he/she is positioned to win the nomination at this point and time -- and be put on the path to replace Roy Blunt in the U.S. House.
For last month's inaugural rankings, click HERE
1. Jack Goodman (Up 1) - Although it obviously doesn't hurt, Goodman's roll out of endorsements from lawmakers and county officials isn't the main reason we're marginally placing him on the top of the heap. He's clearly the establishment candidate. That still counts for something in GOP primaries. But he also showed measured improvement in his second big campaign event. More comfortable, more confident, better energy, crisper message. The coaching is working. But he's also attempting to carve himself out as the fiscal conservative, drawing a harder line on earmarks than we'd expect from the party's guy. Goodman still needs to loosen up, and show that he's not timid. The honchos want a fighter in the 7th, not a lover. (He'll need to be quicker, sharper and tougher in a debate with Gary Nodler) Still, Goodman's reserved manner also benefits him. He has few enemies. Even those not on the team say they like Jack personally. They say he's a guy in it for the right reasons. That can't be said for who we see as his biggest threat.
2. Gary Nodler (Up 1) - The Notebook spent the day debating whether Goodman or Nodler should get top billing. We've concluded smart cases can be made for both scenarios. Nodler's up one notch because he's made it official, and he'll clearly be a force. He's run for the office twice, knows the district well, and for now, is the only candidate from the west. But we deny Nodler the # 1 ranking simply for the number of his enemies, who immediately emerged hours after he made his candidacy official. The joke goes that Gary Nodler always thinks he's the smartest guy in the room. At times, he probably is. The Senate Appropriations Chair knows his stuff and carries himself with an heir of confidence. But his opponents think he's arrogant and a posturer, as well as a hypocrite on "Christian values" and "pork". Right to Life wasted no time taking him on -- not even giving him the courtesy of one day to bask in his announcement glow. And have you seen this video yet? As this campaign heats up, others will have their arrows out as well. Nodler will be a marked man in this race -- partly because he's a big dog in the pack, but also because he's a big target.
3. Billy Long (Down 2) - The cowboy-hat wearing auctioneer didn't do anything to drop his rank but . . . do nothing. Long had an impressive 1st quarter fundraising haul and he's already spent some of the money, on newspaper ads and a big Springfield billboard. Hey, when you got it, spend it . . . No? But he hasn't actually done a big media event yet. No big campaign roll out. No press conferences. He told The News-Leader's Chad Livengood, he'll hold a big event in July where reporters can grill him. Does that mean he's hitting the books for a month to put some meat on those policy bones? The first time Gary Nodler throws a fastball at him, he'll get away with laughing it off as the non-politician. But the second or third time, Long will be expected to articulate a coherent policy response. We're not saying it won't happen, we just point out that it's the elephant in the room. Another shot being quietly asked about Billy: How can the rich guy who lives in Highland Springs get away with being the regular Joe at the same time?
4. Darrell Moore (----) - The Greene County prosecutor wasn't even on our inaugural list. We had heard rumblings, but now know he's serious. His campaign kick-off speech went on way too long and lost focus, but Moore is clearly well-read and has taken the time to think about the issues he cares about. That gains him respect with the Republicans who may choose to sleep in on Sundays instead of head to the nearest megachurch. But Moore's issues aren't the issues the right usually gets excited about. No mention of gays, guns or abortion at his announcement. He wants to tackle healthcare, Social Security and our mounting debt. He wants to get away from the rhetorical bomb-throwing and broaden the GOP. Moore will be the moderate in the race, but where did that ever get anybody in a GOP primary? As prosecutor, Moore should have considerable name I.D. around the Ozarks. He's regularly on TV. (Now prudent stations should be extremely judicious about how often they put him on the tube. He is a politician now, afterall.) Moore will bring a level of seriousness and new ideas to a field that is predictably similar on ideological grounds. Now let's see if he can raise some money and pick up traction.
5. Jeff Wisdom (Stable) - The Ozarks Technical Community College instructor knows how to deliver a speech. He's been hitting some county Lincoln Day events, and getting good applause lines. But is he considered serious by Republicans -- or is he the Tom Tancredo/Ron Paul of the group? -- "Welcome to the party, but don't expect to get the last dance." Wisdom's 2nd quarter campaign finance report will (unfortunately) help determine if his candidacy has legs. But for now, we're enjoying his all-too-human Facebook messages. A recent status update: "Jeff Wisdom is wandering somewhere between confusion and uncertainty, clarity and resolution." We hear ya man, but if you're running for Congress, just remember: Everything you write can and will be used against you in a twisted television ad. (Then again, only if you're relevant.)
6. Kevin Elmer (Stable) - The Nixa alderman has been hitting the pavement hard, speaking to everyone from the College Republicans to a group of local architects. Elmer certainly has fire in the belly, and friends admire his work ethic. He made early, but clear pledges to the voters: For term limits and the Fair Tax, against Congressional pay raises. Now comes the hard part, putting together an organization that will be able to compete in a saturated field.
7. The Unknown (Down 1) - He or SHE could still be out there, but time is a ticking. Donors are committing, staffers are signing, resources are drying up. But if you are still out there, call me;)
8. Hal Donaldson (Stable) - Yes, he's stable. But last month we ranked Greene County Circuit clerk Steve Helms, former State Rep. B.J. Marsh and Jasper County Fair Tax advocate John Putnam. (We haven't heard anything more from any of three.) So Donaldson's basically stable by default, and nothing else. We still haven't heard a peep out of the Convoy of Hope president since he formed his exploratory committee. There hasn't been a large natural disaster. I'm guessing he's still exploring? Somebody call Spence!