Democrat Claire McCaskill on Winning in Missouri
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The Senate is still in the balance this morning. And one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country was in Missouri. As we've been reporting this morning, the Democrats won that seat. State Auditor Claire McCaskill defeated Republican incumbent Jim Talent. She joins us now on the line from St. Louis. Good morning.
Senator CLAIRE McCASKILL (Democrat, Missouri): Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Let's start with something that exit polls in Missouri showed us, and that's the two issues played a very big part in this election - the war in Iraq and the economy. And I'll just say, more than eight out of 10 voters there said the economy was either extremely or very important. How did that help you in Missouri?
Senator McCASKILL: Well, I think every time the president said how well the economy was doing, people in Missouri said, huh? The prosperity hasn't reached middle America, it hasn't reached the heart of our country. It's been about Wall Street, and it's been about a very narrow band of very wealthy people that have enjoyed the Bush prosperity.
In Missouri, working families have not seen an increase in income. They are frustrated about health care. They are frustrated that the cost of living has eaten up any meager increase in wages they've received. They've realized that Washington hasn't been about them, and I think that really helped us in this election.
MONTAGNE: And with the war - were they voting against the president, or for you?
Senator McCASKILL: I think they were voting for a voice of accountability. I'm the auditor now, they've seen me here for eight years, kind of getting at government when it's behaving badly, holding government accountable. I think they realized - I mean, Missourians go, wait a minute, how have we spent $350 billion on the war, and we don't have the right armor on our men and women that are serving?
Those are the kind of basic common-sense questions that they want answered. And I think they have confidence that I'll be able to get those questions answered.
MONTAGNE: Now, Missouri had a stem-cell initiative. How much of a factor was that in your victory?
Senator McCASKILL: Well, certainly I think, ultimately, the stem-cell initiative won. And I think it was a positive for the campaign. It certainly wasn't the dominating issue that the national media made it after the Michael J. Fox ad. I appreciate Mr. Fox's help. His commercial on behalf of our campaign was real and it was emotional, it showed commitment and courage. But ultimately, it was just one of the many issues that made a difference in this campaign.
MONTAGNE: You know, one of the interesting things about your campaign is that you've won a lot of votes in rural areas. And those are places that are traditionally Republican strongholds in Missouri. How did you pull that off?
Senator McCASKILL: Well, I think what has happened to the Democratic Party is that they have gotten on defense in rural America. And our state is so unique in that we really are a mood mirror. We are just like the country in terms of the demographics - urban, rural - the ethnic mix.
I realized that we needed to get out to rural Missouri and talk about kitchen table issues. They're just as frustrated about health care and gas prices as people in the suburbs. We have just been ignoring them. And I think I've spent a lot of time in rural Missouri, listening. I think they realized that my values reflected theirs in terms of healing the sick and taking care of families, and kind of restoring the American dream. And I think that is what made the difference in terms of the margins in rural Missouri.
MONTAGNE: And you reminded voters that what - you were also a small-town girl?
Senator McCASKILL: I am a small-town girl. And my mom was my secret weapon. She is from the Ozarks. She's the kind of woman that says horns waggle as part of her natural vocabulary. So I think her campaigning - she appeared in a commercial for me that was very, very real and genuine as it relates to rural Missouri. And I think all of that helps.
MONTAGNE: Claire McCaskill, thanks very much for joining us.
Ms. MCCASKILL: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill won her race for U.S. Senate. She unseated Republican incumbent Jim Talent.
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