ST. LOUIS — With less than three weeks to go until the Nov. 7 midterm elections, many Republicans are defensively licking their wounds and trying to distance themselves from the Mark Foley scandal. Democrats, on the other hand, feel the shift in the winds and are cautiously taking the offensive.

All across the country, Democrats are working with unions, community groups, peace activists and students, coordinating energetic and optimistic labor walks, canvasses and candidate call-ins. They are ready to take back control of the U.S. House and Senate.

In Missouri, things are looking good for working-class voters. Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill has a lead over right-wing Republican incumbent Jim Talent in the U.S. Senate race. According to a recent poll among likely voters, McCaskill is favored by 48 percent. Talent, supported by 45 percent, has lost ground due to the Foley scandal and his continued support for the Bush administration’s failed Iraq policy.

Even though McCaskill is ahead in the polls, the race is considered still too close for comfort, especially in rural Missouri. In prior electoral campaigns, Democratic candidates focused primarily on urban voters in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas. Their strategy was as follows: win big with urban working-class voters, people of color and unions; leave the rural areas to chance.

McCaskill is challenging conventional wisdom though, spending more time in rural areas than ever before. While working the traditional Democratic base, her connection with rural voters is forcing Talent to spend time and money on what was once thought of as solid Republican turf.

Is McCaskill’s strategy working? According to Missouri state Rep. John Bowman (D-70), who is coordinating the McCaskill campaign for the St. Louis city and county area, the answer is yes. He told the World, “We are running one helluva ground campaign. So far it has been planned out and executed very well, even in rural areas.” He added, “That Talent, the incumbent, isn’t ahead in the polls is uniquely strange. Missouri voters are ready for a change.”

Reaching out to rural voters hasn’t changed McCaskill’s stance on key issues, though. She is a strong supporter of raising the minimum wage (Proposition B), authorizing stem cell research (Amendment 2) and changing the administration’s course in Iraq. Prop. B is supported by more than 70 percent of Missourians, while Amendment 2 is supported by over 60 percent. These two ballot initiatives are expected to help McCaskill gain at least 3 percentage points on Talent.

Talent opposes almost everything important to working families. For example, he voted against increasing the minimum wage 11 times, while his pay has increased six times since he’s been in office.

The McCaskill campaign is also getting support from state-level races. For example, state Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford (D-59) told the World, “Higher turnout in the Jane Bageto (D-94) and the Bob Burns (D-85) races, which are strong Republican areas, will help the McCaskill vote in those areas as well.”

And Missouri Progressive Vote has targeted state representative races in the Jefferson County area, about 45 minutes outside of St. Louis, with the hopes of solidifying Missouri House candidates Mike Frame (D-105) and Sam Komo (D-90), both card-carrying union members, and increasing the McCaskill turnout in those areas.

According to Pro-Vote organizer Glenn Burleigh, “These are tough races in areas where choice, LGBT rights and guns can make or break a campaign. We are working to turn the tide against the right wing, but a lot more work needs to be done.”

Increased voter registration is also a big part of the statewide turnout strategy. ACORN and Pro-Vote have collectively registered nearly 40,000 new voters in St. Louis and expect a higher than usual turnout in November.

About St. Louis, Bowman said, “We are knocking on almost 5,000 doors a day, passing out ‘Claire facts’ and talking to voters about the minimum wage and stem cell initiatives. We’re pushing for a big turnout.”

With just a few weeks left before the elections, Missouri’s progressive forces are united in their efforts to beat back the right wing, make gains for working-class families and send a clear message to President Bush.