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

ST. LOUIS -- The streak may be over.

After correctly predicting the winning candidate in the last 13 presidential elections, Missourians on Tuesday appeared headed toward choosing the wrong guy — picking Sen. John McCain over Sen. Barack Obama. Obama became the 44th president Tuesday. McCain led narrowly with less than 10% of returns still out.

It would be first time a Democratic candidate had the presidency without Missouri and could signal the end of the Show Me State's status as a bellwether.

A possible factor: the dwindling number of ethnic minorities even as the nation becomes more diversified, said Jeff Smith, a Democratic state senator from St. Louis.

"When you think of middle America, you think of Missouri," Smith said. "But the country is getting increasingly diverse. And Missouri is lagging behind."

Located smack in the center of the country, Missouri has long represented the demographics and culture of the USA, said Dave Robertson, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

But that's quickly changing. Missouri has a higher-than-average number of evangelical Christian residents and fewer Latinos (3%) than the national average (15%), Robertson said.

"The strength of evangelicals remains a very formidable part of the Republican coalition that has to be reckoned with well into the future," Robertson said.

Democrats did vote in Jeremiah "Jay" Nixon as governor. He beat out Republican Kenny Hulshof to replace Matt Blunt, also a Republican.

African-American and student voters mobilized across the state early for Obama, often lining up at polls before dawn. Eddie Caumiant, an Obama volunteer, arrived at Yeatman-Liddell Preparatory Junior High, in a predominantly black neighborhood of St. Louis, at 5 a.m., expecting thin crowds, he said. Instead, several hundred voters were already lined up, he said.

At St. Louis University, student voters began lining up about 5 a.m. More than 2,200 students registered for the presidential election, a school record, university officials said. Many of them were for Obama.

"He really connects with the American people and students," said Samantha Minor, 20, a junior communications major. "He had to pay back his student loans, too."

Both camps courted Missourians — and the 11 electoral votes they represented — in the days leading up to the election. Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Democratic running mate Joe Biden and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton all held rallies the weekend before Tuesday.

The battle for Missouri played out in the suburbs and rural neighborhoods. The Obama campaign worked hard in the rural areas. Of the 44 Obama campaign offices across the state, 29 were in rural areas, said Justin Hamilton, an Obama spokesman in Missouri.

By comparison, the McCain campaign had 15 offices across the state, spokeswoman Wendy Riemann said. Volunteers spread out through rural areas, spreading the Republican message of lower taxes and less government, said Gentry Collins, who directed McCain's Midwest efforts from Iowa. "Missouri is still slightly right of center and still values the Second Amendment," Collins said. "They're not looking for a liberal candidate."

State office

• Democrat Jay Nixon, Missouri's longest-serving attorney general, won election as governor Tuesday by turning back Republican Congressman Kenny Hulshof.

Nixon fared well among all ages and races of voters and in both urban and rural parts of Missouri.

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.

"We left it all on the table. We did as good as we could possibly do," Gibbons said in his concession speech.

Kinder, of Cape Girardeau, claimed a second term as lieutenant governor over Democratic challenger Sam Page, of Creve Coeur.

Kinder spent two weeks this year lining up support for a gubernatorial run before abruptly switching course. When he instead decided to run for re-election, he went on the offensive even before Page had won the Democratic primary. In their first debate, Kinder called Page a hypocrite who has cast self-serving votes.

Page has accused Kinder of misusing state funds to support pet projects, such as a professional bicycle race, and of allowing state staff to do political work.

In the state treasurer's race, Democrat Clint Zweifel, of Florissant, knocked off Republican Brad Lager, of Savannah. Zweifel, will become the state's youngest state treasurer in more than a century. He replaces Republican Sarah Steelman, who decided to run for governor instead of re-election.

And Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, of St. Louis, easily won re-election against Republican Mitch Hubbard, of Fulton.

Carnahan was one of the lone bright spots for Missouri Democrats when she won election in the otherwise Republican year of 2004. This year, high-profile Republicans decided against challenging Carnahan, who is the daughter of a former governor and former U.S. senator and the sister of a congressman.

Hubbard, the manager of a McDonald's in Fulton, raised little money. His main issue was criticizing Carnahan about summaries written by her office for ballot measures.


Republican Sam Graves held off Democrat Kay Barnes to win a fifth term in his northwest Missouri district Tuesday, ending what had become perhaps Missouri's nastiest congressional race.

Graves' victory was based on an analysis of current returns and information from voter interviews conducted for The Associated Press by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.

With 77% of precincts counted, Graves was leading Barnes 61% to 35%.

The race was one of two House seats that Democrats targeted in the state in hopes of padding their majority in Congress. Republicans worked to keep the GOP's 5-4 advantage among the state's nine House seats.

Democrats also focused on central Missouri's 9th District, where Democrat Judy Baker and Republican Blaine Luetkemeyer were in a heated race to win the open seat created when Republican Kenny Hulshof decided to run for governor.

With 89% of precincts counted, Luetkemeyer was leading Baker 50% to 47.5%.

Barnes was expected to be the strongest challenger Graves faced since he won the seat in 2000. Both candidates raised more than $5 million between them, with Barnes outraising the incumbent. She hoped to benefit from voter discontent with President Bush and a national wave that was projected to help Democrats boost their majority in the House by at least a dozen, and perhaps two dozen seats.

But Barnes could not overcome the entrenched support for Graves, a Tarkio farmer, in the rural counties that make up much of the district. Graves, too, lived up to his reputation for launching hard-hitting attack ads, going after Barnes early with a spot that showed a black man and two white women dancing suggestively at a bar. The ad claimed Barnes would embrace the liberal "San Francisco values" of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Barnes later fired back with her own bristling ad that claimed Graves failed to pay taxes on airplanes he owned and benefited from a sweetheart deal to renovate the Tarkio airport on land his family had a right to reclaim. Local officials had denied both claims.

The 9th District race saw Luetkemeyer, a former state lawmaker and Missouri tourism director from St. Elizabeth, pour about $1.5 million of his own money into the contest to keep up with Baker's fundraising.

National Democrats, sensing the chance to pick up a Republican seat, have spent about $1 million on television ads to boost Baker, a state House member from Columbia.

Meanwhile, in the state's seven other House districts, incumbent lawmakers easily defeated lesser known rivals.

The Associated Press declared the winners based on an analysis of current returns, voter turnout and previous voting patterns.

• Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay defeated Libertarian Robb Cunningham in the 1st District of St. Louis.

• Republican Rep. Todd Akin beat Democrat Bill Haas in the St. Louis County-area 2nd District.

• Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan defeated Republican Chris Sander in St. Louis' 3rd District.

• Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton beat Republican Jeff Parnell in central and western Missouri's 4th District.

• Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver defeated Republican Jacob Turk in Kansas City's 5th District.

• Republican Rep. Roy Blunt beat Democrat Richard Monroe in southwest Missouri's 7th District.

• Republican Rep. Jo Ann Emerson defeated Democrat Joe Allen in southeast Missouri's 8th District.


• The state will no longer require gamblers to limit their losses at casinos, ending a rule that did not exist in any other state in the country.

Removal of the loss limits and changes in other casino regulations was forecast to bring in millions more in revenue for the state's schools and local services — all without raising taxes.

Proposition A, called the "Schools First Elementary and Secondary Education Funding Initiative," was one of five statewide issues approved by voters Tuesday.

It repeals the $500 loss limit at casinos, caps the licensing of new casinos and raises taxes on existing ones. Supporters said it also would allow Missouri casinos to compete more effectively with casinos in neighboring states that do not have loss limits.

With 98% of the precincts reporting, Proposition A won approval of 56% of voters.

The gambling initiative — funded almost entirely by the owners of Missouri's casinos — was forecast to raise more than $100 million a year in additional revenue for schools and local services.

"The approval of Proposition A, the Schools First Initiative, by Missouri voters is a win for our state's economy, our schools and common sense," said Scott Charton, spokesman for the YES on A Coalition, which spearheaded the effort.

"It means Missouri can finally compete for casino visitors and revenues on a level playing field with neighboring states, and it means there will be more revenues to help fund elementary and secondary education from the gaming tax paid by casinos."

Currently, Missouri requires gamblers who lose up to $500 in two hours to wait until the next two-hour "excursion" before buying up to $500 more in chips or tokens.

Supporters of Proposition A argued that Missouri lost gambling revenue to neighboring states that don't have the loss limits. And they noted that the initiative would raise needed revenue for the state's schools without raising anyone's taxes.

Opponents contended the measure was designed to help the state's current casinos increase profits and reduce competition from new casinos. They also said the loss limits reduced problem gambling and gambling-related crime.

A spokesman for Casino Watch, the main opponent of the measure, did not return a phone call from The Associated Press Tuesday night.

• Voters also agreed to amend the Missouri Constitution to make English the state's official language for all government proceedings. Amendment 1 prohibits using any other language in all government meetings, as well as on ballots, driver's license exams and other documents.

• Another amendment that changes part of the constitution that permits the awarding of state grants and loans for local storm water projects also passed.

• And two other initiatives — one requiring the state's three electric utilities to increase the use of renewable sources and another that created a state council to oversee the work of some home health care workers — also passed.

Proposition C, the Missouri Clean Energy Initiative, will require the state's three electric utilities to get 15% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2021. It would require that any rate increase not exceed 1%. With 98% of the votes in, the proposition had 62% of the vote.

Also approved by voters was Proposition B, which will create a Quality Home Health Care Council to oversee and recommend changes in working conditions for home health care workers. It also will allow the workers to unionize, but ban them from striking. It had 75% of the vote with 98% of the precincts reporting.

• A proposed constitutional amendment that involves the awarding of state grants and loans for local storm water projects passed with 58% of the vote with 98% of precincts reporting. The amendment removes a cap on how much money the Legislature can make available for storm-water projects and removes restrictions on how the money is spent.

Contributing: Associated Press