(Updated with late rallies) - Nothing illustrates the tightness of Missouri’s top contests – and the pivotal role of St. Louis area voters – like dueling rallies held within hours of each other.
So does the last-minute appeals by President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Late Monday, Trump tweeted his support for GOP gubernatorial nominee Eric Greitens. Meanwhile, Obama is appearing in a radio ad and in robocalls for the Democrat running for governor, Chris Koster.
“This is not the time to let up, it’s the time to step up!” said Democratic state treasurer nominee Judy Baker, among the party’s statewide candidates to address union allies at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hall just off Hampton Avenue. Monday night’s stop was the last of a series of Democratic events throughout the state over the last couple days.
Koster and U.S. Senate nominee Jason Kander headlined the event, with Kander – who is challenging Republican incumbent Roy Blunt – exuding confidence in his speech and at a brief press conference afterward. "We know that America is at its best when middle America is at its strongest,'' Kander said, adding that he will focus on average Missourians if he ends up in Washington.
Win or lose, Kander added, "They will say he had the special interests, and I had you."
The Kander/Blunt battle is among the nation’s most closely watched Senate contests and likely will help determine which party controls that chamber next year. Blunt made his final local appearance Monday morning, to launch his closing statewide push (see more on his rally below).
Koster’s address reflected the positive closing arguments that candidates in both parties often deliver at the end of a tough campaign. “Jason and myself and the rest of this team have been building toward this night for two years,’’ he said.
Koster added that all shared the common quest “to make Missouri a better state and give us all a better future.”
About two hours later, Republican candidate for governor Eric Greitens was the marquee attraction at an outdoor GOP rally in the parking lot of a Crestwood shopping center. That event, which featured lieutenant governor nominee Mike Parson and state treasurer candidate Eric Schmitt, also capped a Republican flyaround all over the state.
Greitens told the crowd that he’d seen, throughout the day, “thousands of people who are standing up, who are inspired by you, who are joining this team so that we can take Missouri in a new and better direction.”
Obama, Trump endorsements can help, or hurt
Greitens and Koster, or their allies, did trade a few jabs over the duo’s final high-profile endorsements. Shortly after Obama’s radio ad began airing, Greitens countered with an anti-Koster TV ad that uses some of the Obama audio, in hopes of capitalizing on the president’s perceived unpopularity in rural Missouri.
Democrats, in turn, filled Twitter with anti-Greitens comments after Trump – who’d been off Twitter for a few days – came back with a strong pro-Greitens endorsement. Such support could hurt Greitens with suburban moderate voters, Democrats say.
For Greitens and Koster, the endorsements have an upside Greitens has sought to win more support in rural Missouri, where Koster snagged most of the major agriculture endorsements. By all accounts, rural Missouri is a hotbed for Trump.
Meanwhile, Koster and other Democratic statewide candidates need to attract strong African-American turnouts to win. Obama’s ad and robocalls appear, in part, aimed at helping that effort. So is the visit by Martin Luther King III, son of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther King III attended several rallies in Missouri cities over the last couple days.
Sources say Missouri Democrats are concerned about lower absentee votes from the region’s African-American neighborhoods in St. Louis and St. Louis County.
The late-campaign events in the St. Louis area illustrate key objectives for both parties. Missouri Democrats need strong turnout among urban and minority voters. Republicans need equally strong rural support. Both parties are focusing a lot of attention on St. Louis County, which will provide the state’s largest bloc of votes.
The victor will likely be the party that captures suburban voters, which explains why both GOP events Monday were in St. Louis County.
GOP leaders predict statewide sweep
Monday morning, Blunt – admittedly in the toughest political fight of his career -- was joined by U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, and secretary of state hopeful Jay Ashcroft at the GOP’s morning rally in Valley Park.
Before Blunt spoke, Missouri Republican Party Chairman John Hancock noted that the GOP has never won seven statewide elections on one ballot. “Folks, it’s going to happen tomorrow,” Hancock said, to a roar of applause.
(It should be noted that Republicans predicted a clean sweep in 2012, banking on the fact that then-GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney would have strong coattails. That obviously didn’t happen.)
During his speech, Blunt said his victory over Kander could be a crucial element in keeping the U.S. Senate in Republican hands. A GOP majority could block much of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s agenda, should she becomes president.
Blunt offered cautious optimism about his chances. “I think the odds are at about seven out of 10 that I’ll be the 51st Republican senator in the new Senate.”
Blunt observed that Missouri is typically much more competitive than national pundits assume. National pundits often assume that Missouri is GOP-leaning, since it has been 20 years since the state’s voters have sided with a Democrat, and because the General Assembly is dominated by Republicans.
But Blunt noted that Democrats hold most of Missouri’s statewide offices. “Every time I would say we have eight statewide elected officials and two of us are Republicans, no matter how knowledgeable the crowd was, their jaws would always drop open,” Blunt said. “They say ‘Gee, we thought Missouri was a lot different than that.’ It’s just not.”
The senator predicted Missouri’s statewide Republicans will do well on Tuesday. Missouri’s Democratic candidates contended Monday that their side will see the most significant victories when the votes are all counted.
Poll watchers in the city of St. Louis will get a boost from the federal government.
The U.S, Department of Justice will send personnel from its Civil Rights Division to St. Louis and 66 other jurisdictions to watch for violations of the federal voting rights act.
The U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri has established an Election Day hotline for people to call with complaints. The American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund are also partnering with local groups to watch the polls.
The phone number for complaints related to possible violations of the federal voting rights laws is 1-800-253-3931. People may also report by email to email@example.com.