Ask yourself this: How can a state that narrowly sent a Democratic Senator to DC in 2006 susequently elect a Democratic governor with 60% of the vote and yet, vote for the Republican ticket for president?
Or overwhelmingly elect a Democrat as Sec of State? Or even as Attorney General?
The mind boggles at the apparent schizophrenia of the Missouri voter. Or does it?
I suppose you could boil the results down into two major, and fairly obvious areas:
1) How the candidates campaigned, and
Let’s start with #1. The Obama campaign put significant resources into winning this state. They clearly used some form of what I call the McCaskill 2006 template. That template calls for more than just a massive GOTV effort in KC and STL, it entails going out into the red, rural areas and asking people to vote for you. Otherwise, rural Dems quite frankly don’t have a tendency to vote for a national candidate. Howard Dean hit the nail on the head back in 04 when he said that people want to be asked for their vote, don’t always count on it being there.
Combine this with a depressed Republican turnout and you have a chance, repeat, a chance, of carrying a statewide race.
In that regard, we are hardly unique. Look at two prominent states that flipped this time around, IN and NC, and you’ll see the same pattern in terms of rural/urban divides with blue enclaves typically centered around universities.
So, the Obama campaign was clearly going to approach MO differently than Kerry. The latter bailed from MO about 3 seconds after he was nominated. Hey John, guess what? Voters really, really don’t like it when you blow off their state. That’s why Hillary Clinton romped to such huge margins in West Virginia and Kentucky in the Democratic primaries, where Obama essentially refused to campaign. It’s why Obama won by more than expected in Wisconsin and South Carolina, which Clinton pulled out of early. It’s why Rudy Giuliani’s decision to ignore every state that didn’t begin with an ‘F’, end with an ‘a’, and have ‘lorid’ in the middle was a catastrophic failure.
Thus, we saw Obama in places like Union. Union? Wow. Or Biden deep in the heart of central redness in Jeff City (he outdrew Governor Gidget). Or the field offices all over. And yet, it wasn’t enough. Some have stated that he “never devoted the sustained attention to rural Missouri that…was required to win the state.”
Um, what more could a national candidate have done? Quite frankly, his campaign had more presence out here in red, rural Missouri than McCaskill’s 06 campaign did. Thus, that criticism doesn’t fly.
So, if we assume for a moment that Obama ran as good a campaign as any Dem could here, then why the essential tie vote?
That takes us to #2, issues. What people still don’t get is that rural Missouri is still very much dominated by the Three G crowd. Well, okay, if my neighbors are any indication, they could give a crap about gays one way or the other. But, they still very much inhabit their own various single-issue, social conservative ghettos be they the Pro-Birther Ghetto or the “HILLARY CLINTON WILL PERSONALLY COME AND TAKE AWAY ALL MY GUNS” ghetto.
As such, any Republican campaign that works those angles still has a tendency to do well here despite the national despoiling of the Repup brand by the Worst President Ever Imaginable and the economy going into the toilet.
So what did the McCain campaign do? Well, they did a good job of exemplifying how the Republican electoral majority operated from 1980-2004. Think about it. His campaign was essentially Lee Atwater 1988 but instead used Wright and Ayers to replace Willie Horton. His campaign used the same charges of anti-capitalism and lack of patriotism and stuck Palin in there in place of Quayle. What we saw this time around was a classic, forceful use of the Southern Strategy.
And while the country as a whole apparently rejected that, Missouri didn’t. Hence, our electors go to McCain if only barely.
All the while, we elected a Dem governor with 60% of the vote. WTF? Or reelect the Dem Sec of State by a wide margin? And yet, we increased the Repup majority in the state Senate. Are we not that bright? Was money a factor? If it were that easy, Obama could have won here with (Jay)Nixonian numbers.
The SecState reelection is actually easy to figure out: name recognition and an understanding by the average rural Repup voter that that office has no effective say in the social issues that matter most to them. OTOH, their local state Senator is seen as having much greater influence over those issues, thus, it’s easy to pull the lever for an “inconsequential Dem” for SecState while still sending a classic Missouri Wingnut to the state Senate.
All this being said, I still can’t figure out Nixon. Social issue wise, he’s got to be fairly scary to most rural voters and as governor, he’s wields a fair amount of power even if opposed by two staunchly Republican chambers in the legislature. And then there’s Hulsof: a standard wingnut we breed in great quantities here. Given the dynamics of the federal races, it’s hard to see why Hulsof did as poorly as he did. Was it a money thing? Pure name recognition? Or is there some subtle difference Missouri voters see in statewide candidates for state office versus federal?
Which brings us back to Obama. All of this:
1) Find charismatic candidate.
2) Run against most unpopular office holder since dirt was formed.
3) Hope opponent nominates backwoods religious nut who spends at least six months of every year in total darkness as running mate.
4) Hope economy heads into a three-holer outhouse that’s not been cleaned in 45 years.
5) Count on your own ground game to overwhelm a depressed opposition turnout.
Recipe for success? Not in Missouri. The Southern Strategy still trumps it…at least here. McCaskill tries to spin this as “…an independent streak” or “Missourians…are perfectly willing to split their ticket and willing to send split messsages.” Well Claire, you’re right on the first part but have your head in the sand on the last part.
And in that regard, perhaps we are unique, at least compared to IN and NC where you might expect the Southern Strategy to still work…but didn’t, barely, at least this time.