STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Of course, the other game that's on is a presidential election. And we're going next to a state that almost always picks the winner. Bill Clinton won there twice, so did George W. Bush. It's Missouri. People call Saint Louis the last city in the east, and Kansas City, Missouri the first city in the west. It's one of those states that claim to embrace a little bit of everything about America. And right now, by a narrow margin, Missouri is embracing John McCain. NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.
INA JAFFE: In a strip mall in Independence, Missouri, a handful of phone bankers are working to make sure their state helps make John McCain the next president of the United States.
Unidentified Woman: Hi. Is this Mary or Lindsay?
JAFFE: This is the headquarters of the Republican Party of Jackson County, which includes Kansas City. But Republican voters are more likely to be found in rural areas and here in suburbs like Independence, Shirley Simmons, the vice chair of the Jackson County GOP says with McCain leading in the polls, she's feeling pretty good about the state of the campaign here.
Ms. SHIRLEY SIMMONS (Vice Chair, Jackson County GOP): I don't want to appear cocky and I don't want to think that we've got this sewed up because I think it's going to be a close. I think we're going to have to work hard but I really am not concerned.
JAFFE: Simmons name's Homeland Security as the top issue for voters around here, but that's not the issue raised when phone bankers like Gary Poe surveyed voters.
Mr. GARY POE (Phone Banker): And in general, do you consider yourself pro-life or pro-choice? OK. And then I have one more for you, do you support the right of Missourians to purchase and carry concealed weapons?
JAFFE: 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.
Professor ELIZABETH MILLER (Political Science, University of Missouri): A number of voters who were Huckabee supporters were not happy by the decision for John McCain to be the nominee and so...
JAFFE: The addition of Sarah Palin to the ticket was critical.
Prof. MILLER: And indicates to them that the party still cares about their opinions and their positions on these socially conservative issues.
JAFFE: Which the McCain campaign hopes will make these rural conservatives more likely to turn out on election day.
Prof. MILLER: Very few people are persuadable at this point. And so, if you can't get out the vote, you can't win.
JAFFE: One group of voters that the Obama campaign is counting on are African-Americans who make up about half the population of Saint Louis and nearly a third of Kansas City, where Willis Books has become an unofficial meeting place for Obama supporters. The soar (unintelligible) focuses on black history and culture. According to owner Willer Robinson, the excitement in this neighborhood is off the charts and in her case, it's much more than excitement.
Ms. WILLER ROBINSON (Owner, Willis Books): I think it's an anointing of God that he is where he is. I think the hand of God is on him.
JAFFE: Nevertheless she says, it'll be hard to transform that feeling into a win in Missouri, not unless black voters turn out in great numbers and she sees that as a huge responsibility for her community.
Ms. ROBINSON: But also as a gut responsibility that we're going to see the fruits of our labor. Either way, we're voting.
JAFFE: The official task of reaching out to the broader community of potential Obama voters is underway here at the campaign's Kansas City office. About two dozen volunteers are buzzing around this former hair salon.
Ms. FRAN FARRAH (Volunteer): Hello. This is Fran Farrah and I'm a volunteer with Senator Barack Obama's campaign here in Kansas City. May I ask you a question this evening?
JAFFE: Farrahs trolling for undecided voters, filling them out on a variety of issues and trying to reel them in.
Ms. FARRAH: OK. We are having some forums for women specifically, would you like to attend one of those meetings?
JAFFE: This office is just one of 40 that the Obama campaign has around Missouri. That's just one measure of how seriously the campaign is competing here says spokeswoman, Melissa Knitty(ph). Another measure she says is a program built around an elite group of neighborhood leaders.
Ms. MELISSA KNITTY (Spokeswoman, Obama Campaign, Missouri): And they are volunteers who've committed to spending 20 hours a week on the campaign which is pretty incredible. I can tell you we've got 200 just in the Kansas City area and then, they're 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.
JAFFE: And they're banking on this strategy, putting them over the top on election day. Ina Jaffe, NPR News.