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Supporters look on before Republican presidential candidate and Sen. John McCain speaks at a campaign appearance on Feb. 1, 2008, in Chesterfield, Mo.
When it comes to presidential elections, the state of Missouri has almost always gone with the winner.
Voters there picked former President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush twice. Democratic nominee Barack Obama and Republican nominee John McCain are now fighting for the state's 11 electoral votes — although recent polls give McCain about a five-point edge.
In a strip mall in Independence, Mo., a handful of phone bankers are working to make sure their state helps elect McCain as the next president. This is the headquarters of the Republican Party of Jackson County, which includes Kansas City.
McCain Camp Going After Rural Voters
Republican voters are more likely to be found in rural areas and in suburbs like Independence. Shirley Simmons, the vice chair of the Jackson County GOP, says with McCain leading in the polls, she is feeling pretty good about the state of the campaign.
"I don't want to appear cocky. I don't want to think that we've got this sewed up, because I think it will be close. I think we're going to have to work hard, but I'm really not concerned," she said.
Simmons names homeland security as the top issue for voters here, but that's not the issue raised when phone bankers such as Gary Poe survey voters. Instead, Poe says, voters seem to care about abortion and the right to purchase and carry concealed weapons.
But the voters who care about these issues didn't go for McCain in the Missouri primary, says Elizabeth Miller, political science professor at the University of Missouri Kansas City.
"A number of voters in southern Missouri, who were Huckabee voters, were not happy about the decision for John McCain to be the nominee," she said. The addition of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to the ticket was crucial, she added. It "indicates to them that the party still cares about their opinions and positions on those socially conservative issues."
Obama Courts African-American Vote
One group of voters that the Obama campaign is counting on is African-Americans, who make up about half the population of St. Louis and nearly one-third of Kansas City.
According to bookstore owner Willa Robinson, the excitement in Kansas City is off the charts. And in her case, it's much more than excitement.
"I think it's an anointing of God that he [Obama] is where he is. I think the hand of God is on him," she said.
Nevertheless, she says, it'll be hard to transform that feeling into a win in Missouri unless black voters turn out in great numbers. And she sees that as a huge responsibility for her community.
"But it's a good responsibility – that we're going see the fruits of our labor," she said. "Either way, we voted."
The official task of reaching out to the broader community of potential Obama voters is under way at the campaign's Kansas City office. About two dozen volunteers are buzzing around. The office is just one of 40 that the Obama campaign opened around Missouri.
It's just one measure of how seriously the campaign is competing here, says the spokeswoman, Melissa Nitti. Another measure, she says, is a program built around an elite group of neighborhood leaders.
"They are volunteers who have committed to spending 20 hours a week on the campaign, which is pretty incredible," she says. "I can tell we've got 200 just in the Kansas City area, and they are running mini-campaigns in their neighborhoods. We believe very firmly that neighbors talking to neighbors and using their relationships is the best way to win over voters."
They're also hoping that this strategy is having an impact that the pollsters just haven't picked up on yet.