Opportunity Lost

Republicans, hungry for victory in November after the pounding they took in 2008, have their eyes on prizes that normally elude them. Anybody could easily dismiss Republican suggestions that West-Central Missouri Congressman Ike Skelton, a Democrat from Lexington, was vulnerable and that St. Louis Area Democratic Congressman Russ Carnahan could be beaten early in this election cycle. That was before a series of stunning upsets, some to long-time incumbents, across that country that dealt a fatal blow to conventional wisdom and made any such suggestions no longer laughable.

It appears the winds have shifted and Republicans could sail to victories which seemed impossible only a few months ago. There is talk Republicans could regain control in the United States House.

That’s what makes the decision of United States House Minority Leader John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, so difficult to understand. Boehner could be the next Speaker, if Republicans can pick off incumbents such as Skelton and Carnahan. Boehner visited Missouri this Labor Day weekend, attending private fund-raisers for Vicky Hartzler, the former state representative challenging Skelton, and Ed Martin, the former chief of staff for Governor Blunt challenging Carnahan. The emphasis is on private.

The Hartzler campaign did seize on an opportunity when it learned that Boehner would be in nearby Johnson County, Kansas to raise money for Republican Kevin Yoder in a tight race with Democrat Stephene Moore in the Third Congressional District of Kansas and planned a fundraiser in the St. Louis area for Martin. It requested Boehner make a stop in Skelton’s 4th Congressional District for a fundraiser and brief media availability.

Boehner agreed to a fundraiser at a private Jefferson City residence. Former Missourinet colleague Steve Walsh, now working for the Hartzler campaign, planned a short media availability with Boehner Saturday afternoon. The Missourinet wanted to ask not only about the Skelton and Martin races, but to get Boehner’s perspective on the US Senate race pitting his long-time colleague Roy Blunt against Democrat Robin Carnahan. In particular, we wanted to hear Boehner’s thoughts on Carnahan’s constant criticism of Blunt’s role in securing Republican votes to pass the financial rescue package, the now infamous $700 billion TARP plan.

Something changed, though. Security concerns, tight scheduling…what does it really matter? The Boehner people canceled the media availability. You could hear the disappointment in Walsh’s voice on the telephone when he informed us. You could even decipher it in the e-mail he sent to the news media on Friday morning.

MEDIA AVAILABILITY FOR BOEHNER EVENT CANCELLED

JEFFERSON CITY — Due to time constraints Saturday’s announced media availability with U.S. House Republican Leader John Boehner has been cancelled.

Congressman Boehner will visit Jefferson City on Saturday to attend a fundraiser and to campaign on behalf of 4th Congressional District Republican candidate Vicky Hartzler. The Saturday afternoon event will go on, as scheduled, but will be closed to the media.

I have covered politics now for 30 years. That doesn’t mean I understand politicians.

If Boehner had granted the interview it would have elevated the Hartzler challenge to Skelton. We would have run bits of the interview on Saturday, would have produced a full package of stories on Hartzler’s challenge of Skelton for broadcast and Web on Monday and would have produced another package of stories with Boehner about TARP on Tuesday.

Instead, once we learned of Boehner’s planned visit, we issued a short message on Twitter, wrote a brief for the broadcast and a short story for the Web. That would be the extent of the coverage. The visit itself slipped quietly into the category of private fundraiser only; no longer a newsworthy event. It could have been so much more.

It simply was an opportunity lost.

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