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Missouri Democrats tout organization - not Obama - in final campaign push

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 3, 2012 - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon led the rest of the Democratic statewide ticket at a Ballwin rally Saturday morning to launch a final 72-hour blitz that the governor said will include knocking on at least 1 million doors by Tuesday.

The aim, in part, appears to be to link the state’s down-ballot Democrats to Nixon, who is seen as arguably their party’s strongest candidate on Tuesday’s ballot.

The rally was held in the parking lot of the United Food and Commercial Workers’ local headquarters, which Nixon emphasized was a reflection of the Democratic commitment to workers and unions.

(The state Republican ticket held its rally here Friday.)

“It is now the time of the campaign in which short speeches are over,” the governor said, igniting cheers.  The chief objectives now, he added, are “defining differences and delivering votes.”

“I couldn’t be prouder of the folks standing on the stage,’’ Nixon continued, referring to Attorney General Chris Koster, state Treasurer Clint Zweifel, lieutenant governor nominee Susan Montee and secretary of state nominee Jason Kander.

Nixon singled out each – and made a point of jabbing at their Republican rival, although generally not by name. The governor said he was simply laying “the stone cold reality’’ about the strength of his party’s candidates.

Zweifel, in turn, praised Nixon as “a leader up top who understands what leadership is all about.”

The Democrats later held a similar rally in St. Charles.

The only Democrat missing from Saturday’s podium lineup was U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who was attending a get-out-the-vote effort in Columbia, Mo.  But her campaign manager and a representative of the state party emphasized in a conference call Saturday afternoon that all Missouri Democrats are working together.

McCaskill campaign manager Adrianne Marsh and Missouri Democratic Party coordinated director Karla Thieman said the coordinated campaigns had made 5.2 million phone calls to likely voters since June 3, and knocked on 1.2 million doors.

By Tuesday, volunteers will have made another 1.5 million calls and hit 1.2 million doors, the duo said.

Thieman said the aim all year has been “aggressive and disciplined voter-to-voter contact," which included efforts to persuade would-be voters to support McCaskill.

Marsh said officials with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee see Missouri Democrats' field operation as "the gold standard."

Focus on statewide candidates, not Obama

Saturday’s speakers didn’t mention the Democrat at the top of their ticket – President Barack Obama – but several said in interviews afterwards that their reasons were obvious. The Obama campaign has ceded Missouri to Republican rival Mitt Romney, who is expected to carry the state. As a result, neither presidential candidate has any staff or TV ads running in the state.

Marsh noted that McCaskill has frequently said she would have liked to see a higher-profile presidential presence. But Montee contended in an interview that the lack of a flurry of presidential ads and campaign stops makes it more likely that voters will focus on the Missouri candidates for various offices, and will pay more attention to their ads.

Said Zweifel: “I ultimately believe that the work you do means something’’ as voters go down the ballot and make their choices.

Democrats also see a possible advantage in that Missouri no longer has the straight-ticket option on ballots, which had allowed a person to cast one vote for a party, which then automatically became a vote for every one of that party’s candidates on the ballot.

Republicans got rid of the option after 2006, claiming that it disproportionately helped Democrats.  Some Democrats privately say that their party may benefit Tuesday by the fact that voters will have to cast separate votes for each contest, curbing any GOP edge should Romney carry Missouri by a large margin, as some polls predict.

Koster declared at the rally that the Missouri Democratic Party’s job is straight-forward. “We’re going to tell the people of this state that this Democratic ticket is as fine a ticket as either party has put up in my adult lifetime,” he said.

Koster, a former Republican, then jabbed his former party for what he said was a slate of largely inexperienced, weak candidates.

“The Republican Party apparently thinks you can just ‘wing it,’ that you can just show up on Day One and just kind of fake your way through this job, “ Koster said – emphasizing that he’s talking about all of the statewide offices on the ballot, from U.S. Senate on down.

“The Democratic Party respects this state enough that they know that experience and commitment and prepared to lead matters,’’ Koster added. “That’s why we’re winning on Tuesday.”

Nixon told the crowd that elections are the great equalizer, with victory going to the best organized. “Elections are the one time when we are all exactly equal. No matter how rich you are , no matter how poor you are, no matter how old you are or how young you are,” the governor said. “Everybody gets the same voice. And the people who are better organized are going to win. This year, that’s us.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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