As Goes Missouri, So Goes the Election

September 8, 2008

For 104 years, the winner of Missouri's electoral votes has gone on to win the presidency in every case except 1956, when Missouri voted (by a very slim margin) for Adlai Stevenson, a popular Governor of neighboring Illinois. Missouri's status as a bellwether is even cited on the University of Missouri's website.

In every presidential election since 1904 with the exception of the 1956 election, Missouri has voted for the winner of the election and earned the nickname of a bellwether state. University of Missouri political experts are available to discuss the importance of Missouri as a bellwether state in this year's presidential election.

"There is no other state like Missouri," said Marvin Overby, professor and Frederick A. Middlebush Chair in the Department of Political Science. "Missouri is the southernmost northern state, northernmost southern state, easternmost western state and westernmost eastern state. It is geographically and demographically in the middle. It's in a unique position that tends to reflect well where the rest of the country is politically."

Unlike Illinois, there is no single central urban location in Missouri, and the state is much more balanced between urban and rural, said Overby. Compared with other states, Missouri is average in income, education and age. For these reasons, Missouri has become a good indicator of the nation's political attitudes and the presidential candidates will not ignore this, said Overby.

"Since the Civil War and the issue of slavery, Missouri has always been in the position as a bellwether state, and this year is no different," Overby said. "Presidential candidates are likely to make more stops in the state and test their messages in Missouri. Missouri is a pivotal state. If you win Missouri, you win the White House."

With that said, it is interesting to note that polling data over the last month or more has shown McCain leading in Missouri by as much as 10 points. Given Missouri's "bellwether" status, one might think that the media would be paying attention, however those outlets which even pay attention to a state by state accounting of the vote tend to list Missouri as "Leaning" to McCain rather than solidly behind him.

If there was any doubt as to the enthusiasm of Missouri voters toward the McCain/Palin ticket, yesterday's "Road to the Convention" rally at T R Hughes Ballpark in suburban O'Fallon, Missouri should cause analysts to sit up and take notice.

More than 25,000 people packed the stadium - in a suburban minor-league ball park in St Charles County, Missouri - about 40 miles outside of St Louis. These were not hand-picked campaign workers being rewarded with a ticket... these were "the folk" who cared enough to stand in 90 degree heat as they waited patiently in line to go thru the security checkpoint. Volunteers handed out water cups encouraging people to keep hydrated. Vendors did a brisk business selling buttons, hats and bumper stickers to those awaiting entrance.

Soon the seats were filled to capacity and the field was covered with a sea of humanity. Most were wearing red... to make a statement that Missouri is a decidedly RED state.

While free tickets had been distributed in advance, the decision was made to open the venue to all comers for general admission as long as there was room; and there were a lot of unticketed "comers!" Some later arrivers were even turned away as there simply was no more room.

In stark contrast to the contrived and staged "rock-star" event of Obama's acceptance speech, McCain's "Straight Talk Express" bus pulled into the ballpark and John McCain, flanked by Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and his new VP pick, Sarah Palin, walked across the top of the dugout to a very modest podium.

Huckabee and Romney exchanged pleasantries, while making joking reference to their past differences, and highlighting their agreement on supporting McCain.

Then John McCain took the podium to enthusiastic cheers. He spoke only briefly, and modestly. No "I am HE" aura could be detected as McCain expressed appreciation and exuded humility. He spoke of Hurricane Gustav and of concern for the residents of Gulf Coastal Communities. He announced a paring back of the convention schedule, and his and the Party's preparedness to be responsive to the storm's circumstances. He then yielded the floor to Sarah Palin, who spoke eloquently, and powerfully. Palin's character, experience and charm all came through and the crowd was thoroughly energized by her.

As goes Missouri, so goes the nation? Barack should be in a panic about now.

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Copyright ©2008 Doug Edelman