In the late nineteenth century, Missouri was a major electoral power: St. Louis was the third largest city in the country, behind New York and Philadelphia. In the twentieth century, Missouri has become politically important for a different reason: In every election but one the state has voted for the winner of the presidential election. (In 1956, the state picked Adlai Stevenson, from neighboring Illinois, over Dwight Eisenhower.) In the last three presidential elections, the state has come closer than any other to matching the exact margin of victory. Missouri is America's bellwether, its political weather vane.
The origins of the Missouri state motto--the "Show Me" state--are obscure, but its meaning to the state's residents is clear: Missourians are steadfastly, simply (and sometimes stubbornly) devoted to common sense and plain-speaking. The official state animal is the mule.
Missouri stands in the dead center of the country, sharing a border with three southern states, three plains states, and three midwestern states, but maintaining a separate identity from each. Missouri is a curious hybrid of influences-- not quite eastern, though it boasts the last city of the east (St. Louis) from which Lewis and Clark lit out for the western territory; and not fully oriented to the west, though Kansas City became the first city of the west. Its balance of rural and urban dwellers, as well as its racial mix--84% white, 14% black, and 2% "other"--holds up an almost exact mirror of the nation.
"America's Focus Group"
In this year's election, Missouri's 11 electoral votes are not the biggest prize among swing states--Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Illinois each have roughly twice that number. But, true to its history, Missouri entered the Fall campaign season one of the handful of "toss-up states" which a statistical analysis by the New York Times showed dead even, leaning not even slightly toward either candidate. Third parties are not polling well at all in this state. Noting the state's close contests in almost every race at every level of government, The Economist branded Missouri "America's focus group." They advise: "If you want to look more closely at the state of the American campaign this year, come to Missouri."
In the state's lone Senate battle this year, the candidates have been in a statistical dead heat since the summer. Time magazine called it an "ugly" fight over "Missouri Values" that is "arguably the most contentious Senate race in the country." Some might look to Missouri's governor race for a clue about which way the state might lean: Since 1972, the state has picked its governor from the same party as the candidate they choose for president--and we know their presidential choice almost always wins. But, alas, this race too is dead even.
Political analysts have dubbed the 2000 presidential race "The Jersey City to Kansas City" election and the "Interstate 80 election". In both formulations, the road stops in Missouri.
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