Show Me state shows up to vote

News Analysis

ST. LOUIS — Voters came out in record numbers for the state’s Aug. 3 primary elections. Nearly 1.5 million Missourians voted this year, compared to 930,000 in the 2002 primaries.

A big factor driving the high turnout was the state’s gubernatorial race. With a record turnout of 1,450,000, incumbent Gov. Bob Holden lost the Democratic bid to Claire McCaskill by less than 50,000 votes. In the last gubernatorial primary race four years ago, only 715,000 came out to vote.

While both candidates were endorsed by various labor unions, McCaskill is the more conservative of the two, appealing to many rural Missourians. She opposes gay marriage, is less decisive on gun control and likely received support from Republican voters.

Missouri has open primaries. Eligible voters may pick a ballot of their choice. Undoubtedly, many Republicans eager to defeat Holden and confident of Matt Blunt’s nomination as the Republican gubernatorial candidate voted for McCaskill.

Blunt received 88 percent of Republican ballots, almost 534,000 votes. His nearest competitor received 26,000 votes, only 4 percent of the GOP vote.

Nationally, Democrats and Republicans have their eyes on Missouri’s gubernatorial race. Democrats look to McCaskill to solidify the union vote in St. Louis and Kansas City, attract African American and working-class voters on issues like health care, education and jobs, appeal to rural women voters who might otherwise vote Republican and, as a result, swing the state to John Kerry.

Republicans count on Blunt to solidify their anti-choice, anti-gay base, and mobilize his conservative supporters to swing Missouri to George Bush.

Only one president since 1900 has been elected without winning Missouri’s electoral votes (Eisenhower in 1956). What these two candidates and their grassroots supporters do in the next three months could affect the direction of our nation for years to come.

In the 70th State Representative District, the victory of Democratic underdog John L. Bowman sent a clear message to the conservative Democratic machine that grassroots organizing and old-fashioned door knocking can make the difference.

Voters turned out in droves in the 70th District, a predominantly African American district that makes up much of North St. Louis. Nearly 6,000 voted in the district, and Bowman got over 3,000 votes. In the 2002 primaries, only 2,800 voted in the 70th District.

Bowman, a member of the United Auto Workers and Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, is considered by many to be “Labor’s best friend in Jefferson City,” Missouri’s state capital. He was also the only pro-choice candidate in the race. He will likely run unchallenged this November.

After his Aug. 3 victory, Bowman told the World, “Health care is a primary concern of mine. Stable communities with good paying, union jobs is a primary concern of mine. Any piece of legislation that provides tax incentives to corporations who move jobs out of state, I will oppose vigorously. And I will fight wholeheartedly for a women’s right to choose what to do with her body.”

Bowman hopes to continue the trend and double voter turnout this November in the 70th District.

Also on Aug. 3, Missouri voters approved an amendment to the State Constitution banning same-sex marriage. The amendment adds the following to the State Constitution: “That to be valid and recognized in this state, a marriage shall exist only between a man and a woman.”

The amendment received over 1 million votes. Missouri’s vote is the first since last year’s historic ruling in Massachusetts legalizing same-sex marriage. According to the Constitutional Defense League, a gay rights organization, the Missouri amendment will provide legal precedent and justification for further discriminatory policies and laws at state and local levels. Also, the amendment could be interpreted as prohibiting civil unions or domestic partnerships currently recognized by the governments of Kansas City, University City, and the city of St. Louis.

At least nine other states will vote on similar amendments this year. Louisiana residents will vote on a marriage amendment Sept. 18. Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah will vote on the issue Nov. 2.

The Aug. 3 primaries show the range of issues that will determine the outcome of the November elections here. If the primaries are any indication, there could be a historic voter turnout on Nov. 2 in this battleground state.

The author can be reached at tonypec@pww.org.