Missouri Voters Have a History of Picking Presidents

Linda Wertheimer is in the St. Louis area, talking to voters in a Super Tuesday state contested in both parties. Missouri also figures to be a key swing state in November — and it has a particularly good record of choosing presidents in the general election.

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From NPR News, this ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

One of the states holding a primary today is Missouri. Candidates have been campaigning there this winter, and the state is in play for both parties, both today and in November.

NPR's Linda Wertheimer has been talking to people in Missouri about the state's strong record of choosing presidents in the general election.

LINDA WERTHEIMER: 1956 was the last time Missouri got it wrong, choosing Adlai Stevenson from the neighboring state of Illinois. The country picked General Dwight David Eisenhower. But why does Missouri often vote as the nation does?

We asked Gerry Welch. She's the mayor of Webster Groves.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mayor GERRY WELCH (Webster Groves, Missouri): It's because we live right in Missouri. I think the demographics of the state with the urban areas and the rural areas give us that diversity of population, diversity of outlook. I think that makes us somehow quite unique.

WERTHEIMER: Mayor Welch also noted that Missouri is a state of small towns. Even metropolitan St. Louis is composed of lots of little towns with their own governments, mostly non-partisan.

Mayor WELCH: Local government is really where issues surface. And I think we can reiterate here that at the local government level, people really don't care what you are. They care whether or not you take care of what their issues are. And so that foundation of issue-oriented voting is there in a big way. It gives them a good mindset for transferring into the national level.

WERTHEIMER: The issues that are drawing people to the polls are the same here as in the rest of the country. Alan Bowham(ph) is a retired businessman who has breakfast every morning at the City Coffee House in Clayton, one of those small towns around St. Louis. He has one important issue.

Mr. ALAN BOWHAM (Retired Businessman): For me, the war. I was always against the war even before it started. I just didn't feel we were supposed to be there. I felt that there was more opportunity going to Afghanistan than going to Iraq. I've never felt that he was a threat. That's how I felt about the war. I'm ready to get out now.

WERTHEIMER: One of the women having lunch with the Pioneers, a women's literary society established in St. Louis in 1879, linked the war with the economy. This is Sammy Ruich(ph), a retired pre-school teacher.

Ms. SAMMY RUICH (Preschool Teacher): I think it's the economy. I think everything hinges on it. I think we're sort of - we should be devastated by the stock market, though over a two-year span, it doesn't look so bad. And I think the economy, then, the war hinges on the economy since so much of our surplus - so much of our money, which is not so surplus is going to the war.

WERTHEIMER: St. Louis is a city that works for Boeing, making fighter planes and smart bombs, and for Anheuser-Busch, making beer. And among the primary night parties in St. Louis is one at a Southside tavern called Royale, named after the owner's late Oldsmobile. They love political parties at the Royale. When Iowa had its caucus, the bar had one, too.

(Soundbite of crowd)

Unidentified Man #1: All right.

Unidentified Man #2: Cheers.

Unidentified Man #1: Cheers.

Mr. STEVE SMITH(ph) (Owner, Royale): I'm sure it was a little bit fast and loose, more loose than it had been done, but I'm sure it's actually probably more in the proud tradition of this sort of roughneck River City that we're in.

WERTHEIMER: By which, I take it, you mean you serve beer.

Mr. SMITH: Oh, we are in St. Louis.

WERTHEIMER: That's Steve Smith, the owner of the Royale. Like a tavern owner we met in New Hampshire, he's got a special drink just for this evening.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SMITH: All right. We're going to be doing the Southside mule, where we're going to be taking some American whiskey and a little bit of fresh lemon and simple syrup to make it nice and sweet. And the ginger, of course, issort of the kick of the ass.

WERTHEIMER: Giving the phrase, get out the vote, a whole new meaning in Missouri.

Linda Wertheimer, NPR News, St. Louis.

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