ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel. All this week my co-host Melissa Block talked with voters as she traveled though Missouri. She followed the Mississippi River south and ended her trip in Cape Girardeau, about a hundred miles down river from St. Louis.
MELISSA BLOCK: More than a mile of concrete flood wall protects Cape Girardeau from the Mississippi. It's a solidly Republican city home about 35,000 people, and it's most famous native son.
Mr. RUSH LIMBAUGH: He's right. In so many ways, Rush.
BLOCK: Rush Limbaugh, who speaks loudly for many in this conservative part of the state. This week, Limbaugh was beating the drum that Barack Obama is a dangerous socialist.
Mr. LIMBAUGH: I do not believe that a majority of voters are ready to give away their freedom. We'll find out Tuesday.
BLOCK: I happened to be in Rush Limbaugh's hometown on the same day that Sarah Palin came to town for a "Road to Victory" rally at the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau. People were lined up outside well before dawn. Vendors sold light-pink McCain-Palin T-shirts and buttons galore, where John McCain seemed to have only a bit part.
Unidentified Man: One says Go Sarah Go! That's Sarah's head mainly. And there is another one that says Sarah-licious, there's another one says Palin power.
BLOCK: You'd do a double take if you saw Sharon Lehner in the crowd. She's a convincing Sarah Palin look a like, wearing a trim black suit and glasses, her hair up in the Palin-esque twist.
Ms. SHARON LEHNER (Teacher, Unity Christian School; Sarah Palin supporter): I've had so many people, even my own children when they knew that she was the running mate, they said, you look like her!
BLOCK: Lehner brought her fourth-grade class to the rally from Unity Christian School, across the river in Illinois.
Ms. LEHNER: We are so grateful that she is running. She stands for good morals, and she is a good Christian lady, and we are so thrilled that we could be here to see her today.
Unidentified Man: One nation under God. Inevasible with liberty and justice for all.
BLOCK: Inside the arena, the Republican candidate for Governor in Missouri, Kenny Hulshof takes the stage.
Rep. KENNY HULSHOF (Republican, Missouri): And how awesome it is to be at a venue where we can actually cheer the flag and the pledge of allegiance, isn't that right?
(Soundbite of applause)
Mr. HULSHOF: And we don't have to worry about the words under God being taken out of pledge with this group, do we?
(Soundbite of song)
She's not just a pretty face.
BLOCK: With Shania Twain blaring from the speakers, Sarah Palin emerges to a hero's welcome. Her supporters wave red and white pompoms, and stomp their feet on the bleachers.
Governor Sarah Palin (Republican, Alaska; 2008 Vice Presidential Nominee): So glad to be here in Missouri, in the show me state, and good to be here because I know that there are so much patriotism here.
BLOCK: Palin gets one of her biggest cheers with this line.
Gov. PALIN: John and I have a vision of an America where every innocent life counts.
BLOCK: After the rally, I find Jocey Bennet, a 28-year old former teacher and new mom, daughter Carolina is sleeping in a snugly with a "Women for Palin" button pinned to it. And her daughter's future is very much on Bennett's minds.
Ms. JOCEY BENNETT: I'm concerned about the quality of her education and the safety of just her as an individual, the safety of her as a woman, when she grows up. And also growing up in a world where you know, we do have the big debt and we do have an energy crisis and just kind of wanting to know that she will be provided for and protective.
BLOCK: You mentioned specifically her safety as a woman when she grows up, what are you thinking up there?
Ms BENNETT: I think just to know that she has possibilities to succeed, you know, whether she wants to be, you know, a powerful banker or she wants to be a teacher. Or of she wants to be a mom, whatever she wants to be, that she has the opportunities to do that.
BLOCK: What do you like about Sarah Palin?
Ms. BENNETT: There's a lot of just girly things that I like about her, and - but I also liked that she seems just like a really solid person. She seems to know what she wants to say, and how she needs to say it to get her point across to a whole realm of people. I feel like I could sit down and have a conversation with her and not feel intimidated.
BLOCK: You mentioned that girly things.
Ms. BENNETT: You know, I like that she really embraces her womanly role. I mean, she's a mother of five. And I know as - I'm a mother of one, and it's hard for me to get up every morning and make myself presentable. And I love that she's able to do that, she's able to get up and present herself well to moms and to businessmen and just to our country.
BLOCK: Bennett adds that she feels blessed to live in a part of the country that upholds conservative values such as the right to life. And Jessy Stubblefield of Cube Missouri shares those values. She came to the rally with her mother and grandmother.
Ms. JESSY STUBBLEFIELD (Palin Supporter): I'd be 27 on Election Day, actually.
BLOCK: And she's a big Sarah Palin fan, got to the rally at 5:30 in the morning, so she could get really close.
Ms. STUBBLEFIELD: She's really excited. I think the conservative base in the Republican Party and she's a breath of fresh air.
BLOCK: You're wearing a button, Jessy that says it's awesome being a conservative Republican.
Ms. STUBBLEFIELD: It is.
BLOCK: Do you feel like the conservative issues that are important to you are getting talked about in this campaign?
Ms. STUBBLEFIELD: I think so. And I think that's because of Sarah Palin.
BLOCK: Because of Sarah Palin, and you don't think John McCain was addressing them as much.
Ms. STUBBLEFIELD: Well, I think he was but she's obviously more a conservative than he is.
BLOCK: Are you as excited about John McCain as you are about Sarah Palin?
Ms. STUBBLEFIELD: Almost. Yes.
BLOCK: You were thinking about that, was it?
Ms. STUBBLEFIELD: I was always going to vote for John McCain, but since Sarah Palin came on the ticket. I've been more excited. I think she is the voice, the new voice of the conservative party. I really do.
BLOCK: What do you think about Barack Obama?
Ms. STUBBLEFIELD: Not a big fan.
BLOCK: If he were to be elected on Tuesday, how do you feel?
Ms. STUBBLEFIELD: Not very happy. I think it will be one of my least favorite birthdays so far, But - I mean, I think we could overcome it eventually. I think in 2012, when Sarah Palin will get elected, I think everything would turn around.
SIEGEL: That report from Cape Girardeau in Southeast Missouri, from Melissa Block who is now back in Washington. And Melissa, the poll show the race in Missouri to be about as close as it gets.
BLOCK: Yeah, a dead heat. It's interesting because this is the state that George won handily in 2004, won by seven points. Missouri, of course, we've heard this time and again stakes a claim as being on of the best bell weathers in the country. It has picked the winner in every presidential election since 1904, with one exception in 1956, when Missouri went for Adlai Stevenson over Dwight Eisenhower.
SIEGEL: Well, in the interviews that you did in Missouri, and of course, we've been hearing these all week long, what for you were the unifying themes in what you heard?
BLOCK: I was struck by how many people mentioned healthcare as being their overriding concern. It affected all sorts of voters that I'd talked to. And as we just heard in South East Missouri, social issues especially abortion are clearly a key issue for conservative voters. And we saw lawn signs and billboards everywhere along the road saying vote Pro-life. I didn't find many people wavering. People really seemed to have made up their mind some time back. Its interesting Robert if you look at how Missouri voted four years ago. You see just a couple of blue pockets, Democratic areas in the state, the urban centers of St. Louis and Kansas City, Jackson County, and in the small county' St. Genevieve. But everything else went for George Bush in 2004 in a lot of times by huge, huge margins. So the question for Barack Obama would be, can he make enough in roads in those traditionally red parts of the states and add those numbers to what are expected to be overwhelming numbers in his favor in the big cities? And can he win Missouri, and its 11 electoral votes.
SIEGEL: Well, we find out Tuesday night.
BLOCK: It could be a late on.
SIEGEL: That's right. Thanks Melissa, Melissa Block, just back from a week long trip in Missouri along the Mississippi River. This is NPR, National Public Radio.
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