© 2022 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

State campaigns halt, as voters take over

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 6, 2012 - Today is the Day of Reckoning for the candidates and the Day of Decision for voters.

The stakes are particularly high for Missouri’s two top contests – for the U.S. Senate and Missouri governor – in which the voters’ choices will affect the makeup of the U.S. Senate and the direction of state government.

The state’s two major parties both claim momentum and are relying on two different paths to victory. Republicans are hoping for a coattail boost from GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who’s expected to carry Missouri easily. The state is so widely considered red territory that neither Romney nor President Barack Obama have campaigned here.

Missouri Democrats claim to have stronger organizations, in part because the Democratic statewide candidates – most of whom are incumbents -- have raised more money and are better known than their GOP rivals.

Polls have varied widely, particularly in the case of Missouri’s two major-party candidates for the U.S. Senate – Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill and Republican rival Todd Akin – who have attracted the lion’s share of national attention and outside money.

All that interest stems from Akin’s “legitimate rape’’ comment in August that transformed the contest and transfixed the country.

Akin said during an interview with Charles Jaco on KTVI (Channel 2) that victims of “legitimate rape’’ wouldn't need abortions because “the female body has ways to shut the whole thing down.”

The fallout was immediate and intense. National Republicans, including Romney, called on Akin to withdraw as a candidate. The controversy overshadowed all the other issues that both candidates had pushed for months.

Akin has characterized -- and sought to discredit -- McCaskill as a liberal who favors big-spending federal programs and is close to President Barack Obama.

In contrast, McCaskill has cast Akin as an extremist who opposes Social Security, Medicare, the minimum wage and federally backed college loans.

Both have spent their final campaign days targeting their key constituencies. For Akin, it’s social conservatives, including home-schooling families, evangelicals and tea party activists.  For McCaskill, it’s urban voters, women, military veterans and labor.

By contrast, the Missouri governor’s contest between Democratic incumbent Jay Nixon and Republican Dave Spence has captured much less public attention and interest. Aside from a joint appearance Sept. 21, the two haven’t engaged – except for verbal jabs from the stump. 

Nixon says his administration has dealt responsibly with the economic downturn that hit Missouri and the nation in 2009, citing growth in jobs, lower unemployment and balanced state budgets.

Spence says the state is lagging behind its neighbors and needs to cut regulations, curb lawsuits and trim unions' rights.

The two have tangled most often in their TV ads, in which Nixon has repeatedly attacked Spence over his tenure on the board of Reliance Bancshares, a St. Louis bank that accepted federal bailout money and has yet to begin repayment. Spence had voted for the payment delay, but says it was on the advice of federal regulators. He has sued Nixon for defamation.

For the most part, Missouri's contests for U.S. House seats have been relatively quiet. The only St. Louis area open seat is the one in the 2nd District, which Akin vacated to run for Senate. The well-financed, well-connected Republican, Ann Wagner, is exprected to best the Democrat, Glenn Koenen, in a district that's considered GOP territory.

But the same can't be said across the river in Illinois, where the state's 12th and 13th districts are being heavily contested. Republican Jason Plummer and Democrat Bill Enyart are seeking to replace Democratic U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello in the 12th District, while Republican Rodney Davis and Democrat David Gill are angling to succeed GOP U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson.

Other statewide offices, legislative posts, at stake

Aside from the U.S. Senate and governor, Missouri voters also choose officials for four other statewide offices as well as 163 members of the state House and 17 members of the Missouri Senate.

Among the down-ballot statewide contests, the most high-profile arguably is the battle for Missouri attorney general between Democratic incumbent Chris Koster and Republican nominee Ed Martin.

Koster – a possible gubernatorial contender in 2016 – used his huge campaign finance advantage to chide Martin for his lack of prosecutorial experience and his legal troubles while serving as Gov. Matt Blunt’s chief of staff.

Martin did attract high-profile Republican officials to campaign for him. including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He’s also benefited from a flood of third-party ads attacking Koster.

Martin has repeatedly accused Koster of failing to sue to block the federal health insurance law, known as "Obamacare." Koster has noted that he did file a court brief challenging the legislation’s mandate that most Americans purchase insurance by 2014, although Koster supports other provisions of the law, such as the provision already in effect that allows families to keep their adult children on their insurance plans until they are 26.

Also attracting interest is the Missouri secretary of state contest between state Rep. Jason Kander, D-Kansas City, and House Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller, R-Willard. The victor will be the state’s chief elections official and will oversee ballot summary language for initiative petitions, an increasingly popular avenue for advocates to press for policies blocked in the General Assembly.

While Kander has focused on  campaign finance reform, Schoeller strongly supports a government-issued photo identification requirement at the polls. The two have also sparred over legislation that Schoeller sponsored that would have eliminated most mail-in absentee ballots.

In the race for Missouri state treasurer, incumbent Democratic officeholder Clint Zweifel is trying to ward off a challenge from state Rep. Cole McNary, R-Chesterfield.

Zweifel has been running on his accomplishments during his first term, including adopting a conflict of interest policy for the Missouri Housing Development Board and investing in projects helping veterans and the disabled. McNary – the son of former St. Louis County executive Gene McNary – wants to expand the reach of the treasurer’s office to focus on pensions and budget-planning.

Meanwhile, former Democratic state auditor Susan Montee is trying to prevent Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, from serving a third term. Montee has used TV ads to zing Kinder over his personal controversies that made the news in 2011. Kinder has returned fire by painting the Democratic nominee as a liberal ally of Obama.

While Republicans are trying to dislodge Democrats from statewide offices, Democrats are trying to cut into the GOP’s control of both chambers of the Missouri General Assembly.

Democrats see opportunity in four competitive state Senate contests, including the 1st District battle in south St. Louis County between state Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, and state Rep. Scott Sifton, D-Affton. The 1st District has been redrawn to become more Democratic. Both candidates are bashing each other’s legislative records and accusing the other of being too tied to special interests.

Democrats are hoping to trim the GOP’s now veto-proof 26-8 margin in the state Senate, while Republicans hope any Romney momentum will help the GOP.

Similar battles are underway in the Missouri House, were Republicans now have a daunting 106-56 edge over Democrats, with one independent. House Democrats lost 17 seats in the 2010 Republican wave.

Ballot Measures

Missouri voters will make decisions on four ballot proposals. Proposition A would grant the city of St. Louis control of its police department, while Proposition B would increase Missouri’s tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Proposition E would bar the creation of health insurance exchanges in Missouri without a vote of the General Assembly, while Amendment 3 would alter Missouri’s procedures for selecting judges.

St. Louis voters will have to decide on Prop R to reduce the size of the Board of Aldermen. Many St. Louis County voters will have to decide on two tax increases -- one for the Special School District and one for the St. Louis County Library. 

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.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.