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9 Days to Election Day: Missouri

Missouri has a full slate of offices up for election this year and three questions on the ballot. In terms of presidential politics, Obama barely lost this state in 2008 to John McCain despite winning only nine of Missouri’s counties, three of them barely. While Obama can likely count on the population centers of Kansas City to the west and St. Louis to the east, he is likely to lose those counties he barely won in 2008. Thus, Romney’s margin of victory in this state will exceed that of McCain’s margin of victory in 2008. Additionally, Bob Barr running as a Libertarian and Ralph Nader as an Independent siphoned 29,000 votes from the two main parties. Since Obama lost by less than 4,000 votes, taking just half of Nader’s share would have given Obama a win in this somewhat conservative state. In 2012, that will not be the case and Romney will pick up 10 electoral votes here, but his margin of victory will not be that great either, although better than McCain’s margin in 2008.

Democratic Governor Jay Nixon is seeking reelection this year. His campaign strategy has been to basically minimize his Democratic affiliation and making a direct appeal to the political center. In fact, listening to Nixon, he sounds downright Republican. He boasts of cuts to spending, no tax increases and decreasing the state workforce. He worked with the legislature to create tax incentives to lure the auto industry to the state which paid off when Ford announced plans to retool a Kansas City plant. He worked out an agreement with state colleges to freeze tuition rates in exchange for no state budget cuts. Probably the biggest knock on Nixon is a campaign pledge he made in his first run for Governor. Then, he promised to restore cuts made to Medicaid, but once elected he moved to restore only some of those cuts. The legislature balked even at these restorations. Today, he has declined to comment on whether the state should expand Medicaid coverage under terms of Obamacare. Nixon will face businessman Dave Spence in the general election. He pumped over $3 million of his own money into the primary race. The main thrust of his campaign has been that Nixon has not done enough to spur job growth in the state. Incidentally, Spence was on the board of directors of St. Louis-based Reliance Bancshares which could not repay $40 million it received under TARP. Democratic operatives have repeatedly pointed this out in the campaign. In all probability, Nixon will be reelected.

Missouri loses a seat in the House. As a result, there are only two House races of interest- the vacant Second and the Sixth. The 2nd is vacant because the current Republican incumbent, Todd Akin, is the candidate for Senate. Ann Wagner won the Republican primary. She has served as chairwoman of the Missouri Republican Party and also co-chair of the RNC. In a highly competitive and contentious Democratic primary that included a recount, Glenn Koenen, a non-profit executive, defeated attorney Harold Whitfield. This district is the conservative suburbs of St. Louis. In fact, it is one of the most conservative congressional districts in Missouri and Wagner should keep it in Republican hands.

The other race of interest is in the 6th currently represented by Republican Sam Graves. When the GOP won control of the House in 2010, Graves became head of the Small Business Committee which has released 12 bills making it easier for small businesses to win federal contracts. Additionally, he has championed agricultural issues since the 6th District stretches across northern Missouri from Nebraska to Illiois and is largely rural. In 2008, he faced what was thought to be a serious challenger in the form of Kansas City mayor Kay Barnes, but he soundly defeated her. In 2012, he will face teacher Kyle Yarber. Democrats believe that redistricting made this area slightly less Republican and that they could be competitive here. If Barnes could not beat Graves, then Yarber has less of a chance.

Which brings us to the Senate race for the seat held by Democrat Claire McCaskill. Heading into this election, she was considered one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents. First elected in 2006, she quickly rose in prominence in the party by endorsing Obama early in his 2008 campaign. She is one of very few Democrats not to request earmarks. However, she has suffered some embarrassment along the way over use of her private airplane and back taxes owed to St. Louis county. Along the way, she made no secret that she most desired a general election showdown against 2nd District representative Todd Akin by casting her alleged moderate record in the Senate against the “extremist conservative” agenda of Akin in the House.

McCaskill got her wish when Akin survived the primary by defeating former state treasurer Sarah Steelman and businessman John Brunner, among others. Prior to the primary, polling indicated that any of these Republicans would have defeated McCaskill; that was how precarious her situation was at the time. In the House, Akin was a reliable socially conservative voice arguing against abortion, an expansive federal government, and gay marriage. He sometimes offended the GOP establishment by denouncing some Bush initiatives like TARP and No Child Left Behind. While in the state legislature, he was a very vocal opponent of casino gambling expansion in the state. Then came that infamous radio interview on August 19th and comments about “legitimate rape” and some twisting of scientific fact. Akin has since apologized and said he misspoke, but McCaskill has been the beneficiary since.

Prior to August 19th, polls showed Akin leading by an average of five points and as much as 11 points at one time. Again, Akin was a relative unknown outside his 2nd District. Again, the fact that a relative unknown could lead a known incumbent is illustrative of McCaskill’s weakness. After that radio interview and the uproar it caused, McCaskill leads in the polling by an average 6.5 points- an 11 point turnaround.

The campaign arm of Republican senators has pulled all funding for Akin as well as the conservative PAC, Crossroads. This was done after many Republicans, Romney included, either suggested or demanded that Akin withdraw from the race. Akin has flatly refused and has launched an online campaign for donations. Under continuous and repeated pressure to withdraw, Akin has now launched an attack on the GOP establishment. In effect, he is waging a war on two fronts- against McCaskill and against his own party. It is difficult to see how he could win the general election under these circumstances. Since that radio interview, he has not led in any poll. In fact, in the polls, he now has been the underdog by an average 6.3 points. McCaskill now leads by an average of 1.5 points which is not a large margin to overcome. Most likely, Sarah Steelman probably would have been a slam dunk for the GOP against McCaskill. Missouri includes large swaths of rural, conservative territory and Akin will likely win these areas. Call it a hunch or a trend or whatever, but the bottom line in this race is McCaskill’s general unpopularity in the state and I believe that Akin will actually win this thing. There is a very real possibility that pollsters are being told one thing while voters will actually do another thing.

But the Akin situation teaches a very important lesson. In recent years, the Republican Party has had a propensity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Sometimes, it is simply the candidate, but other times it is like a trap being laid by the media. Maybe there should be some stock answers on these touchy social issues, but should Akin lose, it will be over one dumb sentence in response to a question on a subject that is not at the top of the electorate’s list. If you are pro-life, state it and move on. They should not get caught in these verbal traps that make them look like loons unless, of course, they really are loons. Personally, I would like to know what exactly is a “legitimate rape.” Year after year, conservatives rail against a liberal media and year after year conservatives fall for their traps and loaded questions. Akin may likely win not because he tried to out-conservative a non-conservative opponent, but because his opponent was simply disliked in this state. Against a Carnahan or a stronger Democrat in Missouri, he would have gone down to a flaming defeat not because of his views on abortion and legitimate rape, but because the opponent was not Claire McCaskill. If Akin loses- still a possibility- then he can blame no one but himself. And the sad part is that if Akin withdrew, John Brunner or Sarah Steelman would have been acceptable conservative candidates who could have beaten McCaskill without the angst and drama.

There are four ballot questions. The first would dictate that police forces be under the control of the local governing body. This applies specifically to the police forces in Kansas City and St. Louis. Those forces are currently under the control of a gubernatorial appointee. St. Louis has been trying to get control of their own police force and this initiative, if approved, would do exactly that. The second question would allow the Governor to appoint four members to the Appellate Judicial Commission instead of three. This commission is responsible for naming nominees to the state’s appeals and supreme court.

The health care initiative would prohibit the Governor from establishing, creating, or operating a health care exchange in the state without legislative approval, referendum, or ballot initiative. It is designed to block Governor Nixon from complying with some mandates under Obamacare especially since he has been cagey about expansion of Medicaid in Missouri. However, the option is still there, but it cannot be a unilateral decision on the part of the Governor. The final question asks whether the minimum wage in the state should be raised from its current $7.25 per hour to $8.25 per hour. In addition to that, it stiffens penalties against employers who violate the law. Obviously, organized labor and community activists are in favor of its passage while the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups are opposed. There is some controversy over the interpretative statement accompanying the question in that opponents argue that it underestimates the cost if implemented.

In conclusion: Romney takes Missouri’s ten electoral votes while Jay Nixon is reelected Governor. The Republicans will control the House delegation 6-2 (from its current 6-3 advantage) while Todd Akin will win a close election against Claire McCaskill.

Running totals thus far: Obama leads in the electoral count 237-201 while Republicans control the Senate 45-39 and the House 184-167.

Next: New Hampshire

SPECIAL NOTE: Since this writer is currently in the projected path of Hurricane Sandy and the associated weather system, if I should lose power, it is likely I cannot finish this series as intended. Instead, I will publish the remainder of the states on one a single day whenever power is restored, should I lose power and not suffer flooding. The last time this happened was in 1992 and we suffered extensive flood damage. Living along the New Jersey shore has many advantages. This is one disadvantage.

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