|THE "SHOW ME" STATE|
November 3, 2000
Tight presidential and senate races makes Missouri a key battleground state. Kwame Holman examines the battle for votes.
KWAME HOLMAN: For motorists crossing the Pony Express Bridge from Kansas into Missouri, there are no signs to alert them they're entering an election- year battleground. But once across the Missouri River, in the quiet city of St. Joseph, there's ample evidence of it. And almost every race here pits bedrock Republican conservatism against eight years of economic prosperity under Democratic administrations. Here in St. Joe, where the Pony Express began 140 years ago, residents get another delivery of political rhetoric every time they turn on their televisions.
|A true battleground state|
DANNER AD SPOKESPERSON: Sam Graves voted against stiffer penalties for repeat drunk drivers. And Graves has taken thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the liquor industry.
GRAVES AD SPOKESMAN: We can't count on Steve Danner to take part. He failed to vote in seven of the last ten local elections. Maybe he just didn't have the time. But Steve Danner had the time to vote to raise his own pay and raise your taxes.
KWAME HOLMAN: Steve Danner is a Democrat running for Congress in Missouri's sixth district, which includes St. Joseph, along with 27 mostly rural counties that stretch north from Kansas City to the Iowa border. Danner worries voters might be suffering from election-year fatigue.
STEVE DANNER: I think that so many people out there are... Have been tired of all the commercials on TV, and kind of been bombarded again and again and again, and I hear so many folks telling me now they've just turned off the televisions. They're not paying any attention anymore. I think it will be those folks that get their voters out, who are on the ground, who are working, going door to door, who are out at 6:00 in the morning, and not back in until midnight at night.
CAMPAIGN WORKER: Going to take this street down here.
CAMPAIGN WORKER: Okay.
CAMPAIGN WORKER: That will work.
STEVE DANNER: That's what will make the difference in having folks turn out - I think is the key to this election.
KWAME HOLMAN: Sam Graves, Danner's Republican opponent, essentially agrees.
SAM GRAVES: There's going to be a lot of voter turnout based on this campaign-- in particular for Congress-- and I don't know which direction it is going to go. We may very well be the margin that helps the top of the ticket. Who knows?
KWAME HOLMAN: At the top of the ticket, of course, are the choices for President.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I think the great state of Missouri is going to be Bush- Cheney country.
KWAME HOLMAN: George W. Bush was in Missouri yesterday.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: We're going to carry Missouri on Tuesday.
KWAME HOLMAN: Al Gore visited the state today. The two candidates have made frequent trips to Missouri in pursuit of its 11 electoral votes. The state is considered a toss up.
SPOKESPERSON: Candidates for the White House proved once again that Missouri is a key state in the upcoming election.
|The race for governor|
KWAME HOLMAN: The media coverage has provided the candidates with multiple opportunities to reach Missouri voters, including those in and around St. Joseph, 50 miles away from Kansas City.
FRANK KESSLER: It's kind of a screwball state, because you have St. Louis and the rest of the state.
KWAME HOLMAN: Frank Kessler is a political science professor at Missouri Western State College in St. Joseph.
FRANK KESSLER: St. Louis looks more like the industrial Northeast. Kansas City to a great extent doesn't. And the group that you hear in St. Joe would fit very nicely, I think, maybe somewhere in North Carolina. They're old conservative Democrats is what they are, and they still call themselves Democrats. But I don't know, I may be fooling myself, but I've seen a movement in the Republican direction.
KWAME HOLMAN: Just north of St. Joseph is Savannah, population 4,300. The town is solidly Republican and unquestionably conservative.
DAN HEGEMAN: It really is a dynamic community that seems to be growing.
KWAME HOLMAN: Dairy farmer Dan Hegeman represents Savannah as well as the rural areas that surround it in the Missouri state legislature.
KWAME HOLMAN: Are the themes the same from the top of the ballot, all the way down?
DAN HEGEMAN: To a great extent, I think they are. People want to bring integrity, and honesty, and respect back to the office again, and I think that that is how they will vote up here in Northwest Missouri, you know. That takes us back to that nonsensical natural Missouri conservatism that we express.
KWAME HOLMAN: And that conservatism is a factor in Missouri's governor's race as well. Republican Jim Talent, a four- term congressman from suburban St. Louis, is giving up a safe seat in hopes of becoming Missouri's next chief executive.
JIM TALENT: You can have a set of people who believe in this country and this state and the traditions and the institutions and the values of private life, who believe in the family and the small town and the small business and opportunity for people, or you can have a set of people who believe in government.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Democratic candidate for governor, state treasurer Bob Holden, is banking on a continued sound economy to sway Missourians.
BOB HOLDEN: So the voters on this November 7, will get to make a decision whether they want to continue to make the progress in education and health care and keeping our house fiscally sound, or do they want to radically change courses and turn our back on our seniors, turn our back on our children, and turn our back on fiscal responsibility in the state of Missouri.
KWAME HOLMAN: The latest polls show a very tight race for governor in Missouri.
SPOKESMAN: Live from the historic Gem Theater, the Missouri Senate debate.
|The race for U.S. senate|
KWAME HOLMAN: The most anticipated showdown in Missouri had been the race for United States Senate. Entering from stage left at this Kansas City debate three weeks ago was the incumbent Senator and former two-term Governor, Republican John Ashcroft. From stage right came Democrat Mel Carnahan, Missouri's sitting two-term Governor, prohibited by state law from running for a third term. Ashcroft's long has been one of a handful of Republican seats coveted by national democrats in their hope to retake control of the Senate.
SEN. JOHN ASHCROFT: My plan for the next term is to build on the prosperity which we're enjoying for the future. I'll have a $200 billion trust fund for classrooms. I'll continue to protect Social Security. We'll pay off the publicly held debt of the United States of America in the next decade. That's very important.
GOV. MEL CARNAHAN: My opponent has proposed a $4 trillion tax cut that would make all of things impossible. It would use Social Security. It would cut Medicare, and it would make it impossible to make improvements in education.
KWAME HOLMAN: Less than 24 hours after the debate, Mel Carnahan was killed when his small plane went down in bad weather near St. Louis. The pilot, Carnahan's son, Roger, and a campaign aide also died.
The state of Missouri immediately went into a period of mourning. A solemn vigil was held the next night at St. Louis' Washington University, site of the third and final presidential debate. A moment of silence was observed before the questioning began. For the next week, almost all political activity across Missouri came to a halt out of respect for Governor Mel Carnahan.
SARA JO SHETTLES: In essence it was a traumatic situation that literally froze us for days.
KWAME HOLMAN: Sara Jo Shettles is chairwoman of the Democratic Party in Clay County. It includes the developing suburbs north of Kansas City. Shettles is hoping that despite his death, Clay County voters will join with other Missourians and vote Mel Carnahan for Senate.
SARA JO SHETTLES: I feel like people must understand that they need to vote for Mel Carnahan, that that vote is as strong and as valid as any vote they can make this election, if not even better and stronger.
KWAME HOLMAN: Mel Carnahan died just three weeks before election day. By state law, Missouri Democrats were precluded from putting a replacement candidate on the already printed ballot. So on November 7, Carnahan's name will appear in the column for U.S. Senate. If Carnahan wins, Missouri's governor will appoint someone to serve in his place.
JEAN CARNAHAN: Should the people of Missouri elect my husband, I pledge to take their common dreams to the United States Senate.
KWAME HOLMAN: Jean Carnahan was the first and obvious choice of now-Governor Roger Wilson for possible appointment to the Senate. Some Republicans criticized Wilson for announcing his choice before the election. State Representative Dan Hegeman was not one of them.
KWAME HOLMAN: Was the governor's decision appropriate?
DAN HEGEMAN: Well, certainly... I mean, some people contend that it wasn't appropriate for Governor Wilson to make that announcement beforehand. There is some contention that it violated, I believe, some federal laws, and certainly there are concerns there. But I think people do need to have an idea who might be appointed, and that's all we're doing.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republican John Ashcroft resumed his campaign for reelection one week after Carnahan's death. He did so quietly, making breakfast for the homeless at a St. Louis shelter.
SEN. JOHN ASHCROFT: I thought that the best way to work through this was to spend some time reaching out to helping others who are in need. And I think that I would recommend that to people around the state.
KWAME HOLMAN: Political Science Professor Frank Kessler.
FRANK KESSLER: Ashcroft, I'd hate to be his handlers, because he must be walking on eggshells trying to figure out what he can say and what he can't say. I'm not sure how a guy like Ashcroft is going to be able to handle a race like that. I bet he's just thankful that there's only a couple of weeks left.
KWAME HOLMAN: Some polls show Ashcroft trailing Carnahan. The Senator admits running against the name of a deceased candidate is awkward.
SEN. JOHN ASHCROFT: I'm not campaigning against anybody. Right now I'm campaigning for the United States Senate. And I'm campaigning for some ideas that are important to the future. I don't want to quibble about that, but I'm not campaigning against anyone.
|Missouri's sixth district politics|
KWAME HOLMAN: With those tight races to consider, Missouri voters have much on their plates. But in the northern suburbs of Kansas City, on the farms and in the rural towns that dominate the landscape, and in the city of St. Joseph there's one more tight race to decide: Choosing a representative for the sixth congressional district. When Congresswoman Pat Danner decided last spring to focus on her recovery from breast cancer rather than run for a fifth term, that previously safe Democratic seat was thrown open to challenge.
STEVE DANNER: I know that she is going to miss it very, very much.
KWAME HOLMAN: Danner's son, Steve, a motel developer and former state Senator, jumped in immediately. Republicans recruited state Senator Sam Graves from a far rural corner of the district.
KWAME HOLMAN: What has defined this campaign between you and your opponent thus far?
SAM GRAVES: It's a very basic definition: You know, extreme liberal views versus conservative views.
STEVE DANNER: I want to go to Washington to represent the people of the sixth district. I'm going to be a moderate in the center and there will be those of us in the center who will make the final decisions and my decisions will be based on not party, but will be based on what is best for my constituents.
KWAME HOLMAN: The two have charged and counter charged through several forums and debates.
SAM GRAVES: I want to reiterate exactly what my opponent's words were. The most important thing about this election, he says, is how we spend that surplus. It's a clear distinction, how we spend the surplus. It's spend, spend, spend. That's all my opponent wants to do.
STEVE DANNER: Well, there he goes again. Sam, I think you ought to spend some positive energy on looking forward to the future and giving a vision of where we want to go.
KWAME HOLMAN: Polls show Republican Graves is in a good position to take away a seat Democrats probably were relying on to help gain control of the House and Graves believes a strong Republican ticket in Missouri only increases his chances.
SAM GRAVES: I think this is a state that is going to go for George W. Bush, and that obviously helps. How much it helps is anyone's guess. You know, we always try to analyze, you know, if there are going to be coattails coming up or coattails coming down. It is hard to tell. So at least my strategy has always been to concentrate on my race and move forward, and stick to my message and not try to worry about any other races. But, you know, you just never know.
STEVE DANNER: Everyone has his or her own reason that they vote. I'm not sure that we can ever know how the interplay intertwines between candidates in a party. And I think that now with the untimely passing of Governor Carnahan, that's a whole new facet that's been added to this election. But, you know, it's up to those of us who are here in the field every day to pick up, to carry on, to talk about the things that are important in this election. And you don't worry about other things that you have no control over.
KWAME HOLMAN: Few in Missouri are willing to predict the outcomes of its national, state, and local elections. After all, Missouri is the show- me state, and who better symbolizes the importance of counting the votes first than Missouri's favorite son, Harry Truman.