Out-State Rules Missouri Politics

Article excerpt

The strategy for John Kerry's winning Missouri seemed straightforward. A1 Gore had lost the state by about 79,000 votes, not that large a gap in an electorate numbering 2.3 million in 2000 and apt to grow north of 2.5 million in 2004. There were more than enough potential Democratic supporters in Kansas City, St. Louis City and St. Louis County who did not turn out in 2000, but, with a substantial grassroots effort, could be mobilized in 2004. That would go a long way-maybe all the way necessary--to switch Missouri from the GOP to the Democratic column.

This go-hunting-where-the-ducks-are approach was so self-evident that the Kerry forces (at least until they pulled out of the state on Oct. 12), the Democratic Party's coordinated campaign and 527 groups like America Coming Together all focused most of their efforts in the urban areas, devoting tens of paid staff and hundreds of committed volunteers.

At first blush, the strategy worked. Turnout in the three urban segments went up 110,000 and Kerry won them by 207,219 votes, almost 52,000 ahead of Gore's 2000 margin over George W. Bush. That should have narrowed the race considerably, making the statewide outcome a squeaker.

But, of course, Bush won by a much larger margin, about 196,000, more than double his 2000 edge. In every other part of Missouri, he benefitted from even higher turnout and greater popularity, The Kansas City/St. Louis City/St. Louis County share of the state's electorate declined from 31.08 percent in 2000 to 30.36 percent in 2004. Bush extended his winning edge by 23,000 votes in Southwest Missouri, another 23,000 in suburban Kansas City, 18,000 in exurban St. Louis and 77,000 in the remainder of the state.

The numbers paint a similar portrait for other races, most notably the gubernatorial contest between Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Matt Blunt. McCaskill won the three urbanized areas by even more (214,063) than Kerry did but still lost statewide by about 81,000 votes.

All this is politically sobering news for urban Missouri. As Kansas City and St. Louis City remain heavily Democratic and St. Louis County completes its two-decade transition into the Democratic column (in 2004, 172,520 County voters cast straight Democratic ballots compared to 111,343 who toed the Republican line), they are confronting a remainder of the state trending Republican. The three GOP anchors--exurban Kansas City and St. Louis, the Branson /Joplin/Springfield triangle in Southwest Missouri and rural/small town Missouri--now form the ruling coalition in state government.

That means when the state divides up its limited supply Of public goods and services--outstate four-lane roads versus a new Mississippi River bridge, state aid to rural/exurban schools versus assistance for urban/inner suburban districts and so forth--the urban leverage has declined. …