Springfield State Journal Register

September 6, 2004

Missouri reflects national standings


Illinois is expected to be on the sidelines of the presidential campaign this year, while the Bush and Kerry campaigns concentrate on 12 to 16 other states where the electoral vote is still considered up for grabs. This is the second in a series taking a look at the campaigns being waged in six key battleground states.

WASHINGTON - Missouri has a well-deserved reputation for mirroring the national choice in presidential elections. And it is upholding that record this year, with statewide polls showing President Bush and Democratic Sen. John Kerry locked in a statistical tie similar to their standings nationally.

The Midwestern state has a historic blend of Northern and Southern cultures, and a population showing racial, ethnic and urban-rural ratios similar to America as a whole. So the concerns of Missouri voters also closely reflect those of most Americans.

Recent polls show the economy, the top issue in most national surveys, cited as the main concern by 24 percent of Missourians. But a trio of security issues - the war in Iraq, terrorism and homeland security were also top concerns. That matches national findings that foreign policy and national security worries equal domestic concerns for the first time since the Vietnam War.

"I think Missouri is quite indicative of the nation as a whole. That's why it has the record it has," said Kenneth Warren, a political science professor at St. Louis University. He was referring to Missouri's record of voting for the winning candidate in all but one presidential election since 1900.

True to form, Missouri backed the president over Al Gore 50.4 percent to 46.4 percent in 2000.

The balance of economic and security concerns among voters is a factor in the nearly equal support for the two major-party candidates, Warren indicated. Missourians see Kerry as stronger on the economy and related issues, while they consider Bush better on foreign and homeland security.

The latest poll shows Bush with a slim lead, 46 percent to 44 percent, but Kerry may benefit from bleak economic news, Warren said.

"The recent jobs report was very devastating for Missouri," with the unemployment rate up by half a percentage point, he noted. "I'm sure that's going to be used by the Kerry campaign people here."

The same day the job numbers came out, a Democratic National Committee news release rejected the president's claims that he was "getting the job done" on restoring economic growth. Missouri has lost 184,000 manufacturing jobs since Bush took office, the Democrats said, and new jobs in the state pay $10,164 a year less than the positions lost.

Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot, speaking to regional reporters, agreed that economic issues would be important in Missouri, along with veterans and national security issues.

But social issues could decide where the state's 11 electoral votes go in November, Warren said.

"The social issues will play a role in Missouri politics. Kerry is on the right side of the economy, jobs. But Bush is on the right side on social issues," he said.

A recent vote in Missouri indicated how social issues could play there in November. A proposed state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage was approved 71 percent to 29 percent in an unusually high voter turnout.

Social issues can be particularly influential in the culturally conservative expanse of farms and small cities that fill the central part of Missouri between its two urban centers - St. Louis and Kansas City - and hold 30 percent of the state's residents.

Polling data indicate Bush has significant strength in rural Missouri while he "is getting creamed in the urban areas," Warren said.

Four years ago, Gore carried the heavily Democratic urban areas, but Bush won the state by virtually sweeping the rural counties. Gore received an overwhelming share of the black vote, but lost the white vote by a wide margin, which analysts attributed partly to his support for gun control and abortion rights.

Kerry has avoided gun control issues in his campaign, emphasizing his history as a hunter. He has said that as a practicing Catholic, he personally opposes abortion but supports a woman's right to choose. Kerry also opposes legalizing same-sex marriage, but argues it should remain state matter.

Bush strongly opposes abortion and is quietly courting the gun lobby by ignoring Democrats' demand that he force the Republican-controlled Congress to renew the assault weapons ban. He supports a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

Missouri has about 590,000 veterans, nearly one-third from the Vietnam era, and is home to two military bases. Kerry has emphasized his status as a decorated Vietnam veteran and has assailed Bush's record on veterans programs. But polls indicate Bush is backed by a majority of veterans.

Missouri calls itself the "show-me state," and the campaigns are showing it a lot.

Bush has visited the state 20 times, while Kerry has campaigned there six times since winning its primary.

The Democratic National Committee, which is carrying the advertising burden, is spending more than $410,000 a week on television ads attacking Bush or praising Kerry. Bush is spending about $212,000 a week, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Given the tightness of the contest and Missouri's history of going with the winner, the state is sure to get more of both forms of campaigning.