Joplin May Be Reddest Corner In Missouri

In the past two presidential elections, Missouri has voted Republican. In the southwest corner of the state, there's a town near the Oklahoma-Kansas border that has been mostly Republican since Democrat Woodrow Wilson was president. The town's barber says he was surprised to hear people speaking favorably about the Democratic ticket.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Missouri has voted for the winning presidential candidate every time for the past century except once. The state voted for President Bush twice, NPR currently rates it a toss-up. NPR's Linda Wertheimer went to the most reliably Republican quarter of Missouri, the southwest, to talk to voters.

LINDA WERTHEIMER: Joplin, Missouri mined lead and tin in the 19th century, making the town rich. Some of those mine owners' mansions still stand, as do the churches they built. Harris Joplin preached at the original First Methodist. The church is still going strong at 4th and Byers.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

WERTHEIMER: The bell ringers practiced on Wednesday night after the church supper. Gayle Macalister(ph) was one of them. She runs her son's dental office, and she's a faithful Jasper County Republican.

MONTAGNE: Well I'm definitely going to vote a Republican ticket. I am not going to vote for a Democrat. I do not think he's ready for this, and I'm not sure I'm ready for it either.

WERTHEIMER: Mrs. Macalister is the voter John McCain is courting. I asked if she likes him.

MONTAGNE: Well, I think so. I mean, I know he's a Bush man, but I was a Bush - a Bush person too. So - and I think that McCain is strong enough to make some decisions that don't have anything to do with George Bush, I really do.

WERTHEIMER: President Bush creates problems for other candidates even here. Still, everyone we spoke to thinks Jasper County will once again vote Republican. Party regulars do wonder what long lines forming at the courthouse for absentee voting might mean. Even for the faithful, there's a question about enthusiasm.

MONTAGNE: Safety is an issue, I feel like John McCain is going to protect us a little better and more. I feel like he's - he has better qualities to do - to do that. So, just the whole values, my values are more conservative and feel like John McCain is closer to that than Obama.

WERTHEIMER: Seth Dermott(ph) sells real estate. He is part of the Young Professionals Network at the Joplin Chamber of Commerce. He says, McCain is more moderate than conservatives would like. He'd prefer George Bush over the two current candidates, except for government spending. But passions and the Republican Party are still strong in Southwest Missouri. Miranda Louis works for a local hospital. She supports Obama's health care plans.

MONTAGNE: My husband and I have gotten some scathing emails from family and good friends that we've grown up with. We do have Facebook accounts, and we joined a group in support of Obama. And we've gotten into these serious email battles. And I mean it strains friendships and relationships with family, and it shouldn't.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE TALKING)

WERTHEIMER: One of the early morning stops in Joplin is Dude's Daylight Donuts, in business for 50 years. His famous maple bars are light, a touch crispy and leave nothing on the roof of your mouth. Jim Wells(ph) is a regular, a retired air traffic controller. He's Republican, but a little bit undecided.

MONTAGNE: But you know, when General Colin Powell decided to endorse Barack Obama - I think he's one of the most highly respected men when it comes to making decisions that we have back East. I thought he made a terrific reason why he was going to back Obama.

WERTHEIMER: Jack's Barbershop has been next-door to Dude's since the '50s. Jack Randall(ph) unlocks the shop for early customers, then stops in for a donut. For what it's worth, here's his version of the famous barber poll.

MONTAGNE: In there, it seemed like they're awful strong on Obama. I'm just really surprised that there are many who have told me that. Being a Republican area, you know...

WERTHEIMER: Are they telling you why?

MONTAGNE: Well, they all got their reasons, you know. They - maybe they've lost money. You know what I mean, I don't know. They don't bring it out too much, but I'm cutting hair most of the time.

WERTHEIMER: The man frying the donuts is still Dude Pendergraft himself. He posts lots of stern signs: no smoking, no cursing, no refills, no warm ups. And Dude says, McCain is in no trouble in Missouri.

Mr. DUDE PENDERGRAFT (Owner, Dude's Daylight Donuts) He is against abortion - any type. And he's also - he's against same-sex marriages. And those are very important things for me. The country can go broke, and those things still - those morals still stand if you, if you've got a moral country, God will be with you.

WERTHEIMER: If you buy a dozen donuts at Dude's in Joplin, you get one extra. It's called a headstart, and it's worth the trip. Linda Wertheimer, NPR News.

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