|JEFFERSON CITY - The differences between the two leading candidates for Missouri governor could not be greater.
One comes from rural Missouri, the other from the state's urban population center.
One proposes dramatic new programs to address some of the state's biggest problems, the other argues for maintaining the course of the Carnahan administration.
He acknowledges the roadblocks the measure could face in the legislature, but said an election day victory would give him the momentum he needs.
"One reason I've been pushing the roads so hard is, if I win, when I win, I am going claim a mandate," Talent said.
Roads may dominate his campaigning, but Talent has focused much of his political career -- a span that began in the state legislature in 1985 and continued to his current place in the U.S. House of Representatives -- on aiding business and reducing the number of single moms on welfare.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a lobbying group representing business and industry, has given Talent a perfect rating for four in of his first six years in Congress. Those ratings measure how often a congressman votes in-line with the pro-business organization's position.
As chairman of the House Small Business Committee, Talent, 44, has pushed legislation for eight years in Congress that would give businesses tax breaks for investing in impoverished areas.
That bill, once again before Congress, faces a promised veto by President Clinton.
He said the political squabbling over the measure "reminded me of why I don't want to go back" to Washington.
Talent has sponsored proposals that would cut welfare benefits to single moms under age 21 and to require welfare recipients to work 25-35 hours a week.
"I haven't made (welfare reform) a big issue in the campaign, but there are a few things I'd like to address" as governor, Talent said.
Among those, he said he still wants to reduce the number of children born out of wedlock. To this aim, he said he wanted "to gently but truthfully confront kids with the reality of being a single mom" by cutting unwed mothers' benefits.
Talent represents the state's wealthiest congressional district, spanning the bulk of St. Louis County and parts of St. Charles County. He grew up in affluent Kirkwood and attended Washington University in St. Louis, finishing with a degree in political science. He got a law degree from the University of Chicago.
In the legislature, Talent rose to the position of Republican floor leader in 1988. Once in that position, the bills he sponsored transformed from mundane technical matters to meatier issues like tax cuts and ensuring local control over the education.
As a Republican in a Democratic chamber, the bills he sponsored didn't pass -- something Talent said he learned to get around.
"In the minority, you can still get things done through the amendment process," he said. "So you can get things done in a way you don't get credit for."
He also holds a leadership position in the U.S. House, assistant majority leader. Majority Leader U.S. Rep. Dick Armey, R-Texas, chose Talent in part as a reward for supporting Armey's run to be re-elected majority leader.
That tie to the GOP leadership in Congress is an area Talent's opponent, state Treasurer Bob Holden, has attacked, linking Talent to fiery former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
In addition to the roads proposal, Talent has put forth proposals aimed at making schools safer and has vowed to meet with municipal leaders in St. Louis and Kansas City to devise a plan to salvage those struggling school districts.
Although not mentioned in the Republican's campaign, he supports school vouchers, the controversial idea that would give state money to families living in poor performing districts to send their kids to private schools.
Much of Talent's campaign rhetoric has sought to paint Holden as part of a "failed establishment in Jefferson City."
Although that would seem like a touchy subject after the top of that establishment, Gov. Mel Carnahan, died in a plane crash, Talent said that his basic campaign approach would not be changed because of the governor's death.
"The basic strategy doesn't change at all," he said. "I've talked about a leadership network that has failed. See, we have real people who get hurt when kids don't learn to read the way they should and when we're second in the country in production of meth. If we're gonna help those real people we have to confront the failures."
Talent, an attorney, got into politics after clerking for a federal judge in Washington, D.C.
State Sen. Franc Flotron, R-Chesterfield, a friend of Talent's from Washington University, suggested that Talent move to suburban Ballwin after the clerkship because the state representative there was preparing to retire.
Talent said he ran with the intention of serving for a few terms then "returning to a normal life." But, he said, positions kept opening up that he felt he was the man to fill.
He said it was unclear what impact, if any, the drama unfolding in the U.S. Senate campaign would have on his own race.
"I don't know if anybody knows the impact, even on the Senate race, much less any other race," he said. "To have the effect, which was appropriate and necessary, of causing a parentheses in the campaign (created) a time which very significantly limited our campaigning. What impact that's going to have I don't know, for good or for ill."