ST. LOUIS Missouri's election results provided a mystifying
paradox, as the state heavily favored Republican Mitt Romney but put
Democrats in most statewide offices.
The state has grown more conservative, especially in presidential
politics. But Democrats found paths to statewide victories, largely
fueled by candidate selection and careful positioning on issues. In
essence, Missouri has become a red state with gaps that are being
successfully exploited by Democrats.
Romney won Missouri by almost 10 points, beating President Barack
Obama by a larger margin than he did in the deep red Southern state
of Georgia. And the GOP maintained strong majorities in both the
state House and Senate.
But Democrats, largely avoiding their party's standard-bearer and
platform, found ways to win big. Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill
carried the state by an even larger margin than Romney, defeating
conservative Todd Akin, whose candidacy was disrupted by a
controversial comment on rape.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon won the state with 54.7 percent of the
vote, the same as McCaskill and almost a point more than Romney.
Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster defeated Republican Ed
Martin by 15 points, while Democratic Treasurer Clint Zweifel
narrowly won a second term.
Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Mike Sanders said the election
proves that Missouri "is still very much a bipartisan state." "You
can vote for Mitt Romney and Claire McCaskill, or Mitt Romney and
Clint Zweifel," he said.
As a whole, the state tends to be culturally conservative, and
legislative districts give the impression of a more conservative
state. But Republican consultant John Hancock said Tuesday's
election proved that races are still competitive statewide.
"You still have to field good, strong candidates who are
adequately funded," he said. "It's not a state that will just elect
any old Republican." But to Ken Warren, a political scientist at St.
Louis University, the state's politics have come to resemble those
of a traditional Southern state.
"This is a classic description of a Southern state," Warren said.
"They vote Democrat statewide but Republican nationally. Missouri
has shifted to the right." The evidence? Surveys of Missourians who
voted in Tuesday's election.
In the last four years, Missouri shed self-described moderate
voters, according to exit polling data. Missouri's electorate was
made up of 39 percent of voters who described themselves as
conservative, up from 36 in 2008 and 2004. Its percentage of
moderate voters slipped to 41 percent, from 45 in those years.
If the trend continues, conservative voters soon could be the
largest voting bloc in the state.
Democrats clearly know this. The party's statewide candidates
focused on moderation and shied away from the party's more
That's a big difference from the days when the Democratic Party's
standard bearer was President Harry Truman, a Missourian who
advocated national health insurance, an issue that cost Obama
support in Missouri.
"I don't know that this was an endorsement of the progressive
movement," said Republican strategist Patrick Tuohey, noting that
Nixon and McCaskill both won with "right down the middle" centrist
campaigns, "to the frustration of progressives. …