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Blunt, McConnell press conference image (copy)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, listens as Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., speaks during a news conference. Blunt said he’ll vote to override President Donald Trump’s veto of a defense authorization bill.

After he climbed the Senate leadership ladder, Roy Blunt always seemed to be standing next to Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell.

In these politically polarized times, people tend to draw their conclusions from the visuals rather than the substance of what McConnell and Blunt were saying. All that matters is that the Missouri senator was flanking the Senate’s Republican leader at the podium.

There’s another image that needs to be recalled after Blunt announced that he would not seek a third term in the U.S. Senate: Blunt standing at a different podium, one far from the halls of power in Washington, D.C., to honor the hard work and dedication of literacy volunteers and adult learners.

“You checked the inspirational box today,” Blunt said at one of his annual visits to the Literacy Luncheon at Missouri Western State University.

It wasn’t a quick fly-in and photo op. Blunt chaired the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees the spending of federal education programs. He took an interest in literacy and an interest in St. Joseph, a city that might be the center of our universe but more of a distant outpost from the Washington perspective.

Since 2011, Blunt visited St. Joseph 40 times and appeared at 70 separate events in this city. That’s once every three months, a level of visibility you’d be lucky to get from a state officeholder or maybe a U.S. representative, not a senior U.S. senator who rose to the fourth-highest party leadership post in the chamber.

We’d venture to guess that a U.S. senator hasn’t visited St. Joseph as much since Kit Bond, a prolific dispenser of earmarks who got a few buildings named in his honor. It was Bond’s decision not to run that set off a cascade of political maneuvering resulting in Blunt, then a U.S. representative, winning the seat in 2010. A similar scrum is sure to follow Blunt’s decision.

The upcoming race will determine the future direction of the GOP in this state. Is it the party of Donald Trump or the party of conservative ideas? In an interview in Springfield, Blunt said he would have won a third term and would have gotten Trump’s endorsement, an implied acknowledgement that it might be a prerequisite for emerging from a crowded primary field.

Blunt knew how to navigate a minefield. He was known as a bipartisan dealmaker and an institutionalist, someone who both voted to acquit Trump and planned the inauguration of Joe Biden.

Will his predecessor be someone who charts a path through the explosives? Or will it be a bomb-thrower?

The future will determine who emerges, from either party. One thing is certain. It would be nice if the next senator would drop by as much as Blunt did.

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