Bellwether state may miss the mark; Nixon wins Mo. gov. race

He ran on a dual platform of experience and change, referring to his record 16 years of service as attorney general and to his party's out-of-power status for the past four years. His blue, orange and white campaign banners proclaimed: "Jay Nixon. Independent. Experienced. The Change We Need."

Change was guaranteed after Republican Gov. Matt Blunt unexpectedly announced in January that he would not seek a second term. Nixon will become Missouri's fifth governor in 10 years when he is sworn into office in January 2009.

Nixon and Hulshof focused their campaigns on the economy, education and health care while casting each other as big spenders incapable of changing Missouri's Capitol. Although Nixon had been campaigning for three years, Hulshof entered the race only after Blunt exited it.

Nixon, 52, of Jefferson City, was practically born a politician. He grew up in the small eastern Missouri town of De Soto, where his father was the mayor and later the municipal judge and his mother served as the school board president and on the city park board. During stump speeches, Nixon commonly quipped that he got his political start answering constituent phone calls during family dinners.

After sports practices, a high-school-aged Nixon donned a coat to package the products of a local ice house. He got his union card working as the low man on construction crews, carrying pipes to build sewage plants, steel for iron workers and wood for carpenters.

A young attorney, Nixon won election to the state Senate in 1986 at the earliest age possible under law, then began his run as Missouri's longest-serving attorney general in 1993.

In the mid-1990s, Nixon relied on his assistant, Hulshof, to prosecute some of the state's highest-profile crimes. During lunch breaks at the office, they played pickup basketball games.

Hulshof, 50, of Columbia, first ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1994. A year later, he left Nixon's office to try again for Missouri's 9th Congressional District. Hulshof unseated longtime Democratic Rep. Harold Volkmer and won re-election to five more terms.

• Democrat Chris Koster emerged from a nasty attorney general race Tuesday and defeated Republican Michael Gibbons, while Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder was the only Republican to win a statewide office.

Koster, a former Cass County prosecutor who lives in Raymore, switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party last year and was dogged throughout the primary by ethics complaints against his fundraising and negative ads funded by his ex-wife.

In the campaign's final weeks, Gibbons and Koster launched a full-blown ad war against each other. Koster accused Gibbons of voting for more lenient prison sentences and supporting clemency for a murderer. Gibbons, of Kirkwood, criticized Koster for a 1991 arrest for writing three bad checks totaling less than $20 and claimed Koster once accepted campaign donations that could be tied to the mob.

Koster told The Associated Press in an interview that his focus has turned to taking over an attorney general's office that has had only one boss for the last 16 years. Attorney General Jay Nixon skipped re-election in 2008 to instead run for governor.

"The political season is sometimes messy, but I find it unproductive to do anything but move the past aside and move forward," Koster said.

A spokesman for Gibbons' campaign said that Gibbons decided to concede defeat just after 11 p.m. as Koster's lead continued to grow.

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