ST. LOUIS, Missouri (AFP) — With the 2008 presidential election boiling down to a handful of battleground states, the tightest race of all has emerged in Missouri, the most accurate political bellwether state in US history.
The campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain are taking a no-holds-barred approach to the midwestern "Show Me" state, and with good reason; Missourians have voted for the presidential winner in all but one election since 1904.
With such imposing history dictating outsized attention for the state, Republican McCain made two stops in Missouri in late September while Democrat Obama earlier launched a bus tour of the state's Republican stronghold southwest.
Officials from both parties concede the campaigns are pouring resources into the state in a mad dash for Missouri's 11 electoral votes.
The candidates have blitzed the state with political ads, with Obama reportedly spending six million dollars on media advertising and McCain close on his heels with 5.5 million.
Missouri's vote is on a knife edge, and recent major polls have toggled back and forth; Thursday's average of recent polls by independent website Realclearpolitics.com shows McCain at 47.8 percent and Obama at 47.4 in Missouri. The previous day it was Obama 47.8, McCain 47.5.
"Missouri is in the middle of the country geographically but also the center of the country politically," Washington University history professor Peter Kastor said.
"It is a state where various regional political cultures all exist."
That could favor Obama, Kastor said, as he has the passionate oratory skills of the deep South combined with a hard-driven persona of a cosmopolitan Northeasterner.
But he will have to overcome latent racism among rural whites, an element more than one expert described as an "unknown quantity" in Missouri particularly because residents have seen so few black candidates run for state or national office.
The state looms especially large for the Republicans, both parties agree, as they trail in most of the other swing states including Florida, Ohio and Virginia.
"Senator McCain has to win Missouri to win the White House. So there is a strong commitment from the McCain-Palin campaign to make sure that we deliver Missouri for that ticket," said Jared Craighead, executive director of the state's Republican Party.
Earlier this month McCain pulled resources out of Michigan, essentially conceding it to Obama. Officials in both parties expect those resources to be shifted to Missouri.
The Obama campaign has opened 40 field offices across the state, with more than 100 paid staffers -- "an unprecedented commitment to Missouri," said Jack Cardetti, communications director of the Missouri Democratic Party.
Cardetti said a massive voter registration movement has put 175,000 new voters on the rolls this year, a considerable amount in a state of nearly six million people.
"If the same amount of voters come out and vote the same way (as in 2004, when George W. Bush won by seven percent in Missouri) the Democrats lose," he said.
New voters tend to be youths and minorities, two demographics that traditionally vote Democratic.
Missouri is the mean center of the US population.
The largest city St. Louis, known as the "Gateway to the West," draws its cultural tenor from states to the east, while Missouri's second urban center, Kansas City, on the state's western border, is in the sphere of the West.
Southern Missouri is part of the evangelical Bible belt, and just below that is the conservative deep South; to the north are the Great Plains where farmers vote Democratic more often than their southern counterparts.
While experts say residents are going to be voting on pocketbook issues in November -- the economy, jobs, taxes and energy -- Missourians are deeply suspicious of politicians seeking to take away their guns. Abortion rights remain a hot-button issue as well.
-- Missouri pros for McCain: The state has recently leaned Republican, and its substantial rural population's social conservatives may be drawn to polls in large numbers by McCain's addition of Sarah Palin to the ticket.
-- Missouri pros for Obama: A string of recent elections and polls for state races have indicated tilt towards Democrats. Massive voter registration campaign this year likely to favor Obama.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »