Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Missouri Mixes Blue with Red; ELECTIONS 2012

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Missouri Mixes Blue with Red; ELECTIONS 2012

Article excerpt

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 progressive streak.

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. …

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