JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.
If Sen. Barack Obama wins the presidency on Election Day, he will probably have the heartland to thank. Mr. Obama today holds a solid lead in Iowa, a slim lead in Missouri and barely trails Republican Sen. John McCain in Indiana - three states that backed President Bush in 2004 and represent 29 electoral votes, more than enough to make up Republicans’ margin of victory last time.
The Washington Times logged more than 1,100 miles driving the Midwest to gauge voter sentiment before the Nov. 4 election and found deep discontent with the nation’s course, severe economic woes and discomfort with the possibility of the first black president, all of which may sway the results.
In Missouri, where the campaign has more than 40 offices and an army of grass-roots volunteers, some of Mr. Obama’s support comes from fed-up Republicans such as John Lindsey, 28, a restaurant server in Columbia who said he regrets his vote for Mr. Bush in 2004.
“Obama and Biden, more than McCain’s party, they represent change and not just rhetoric,” Mr. Lindsey said. “It feels like enough people want change and they may think, like I do, that the country really needs the other party this time.”
The Show Me State has an unemployment rate of 6.6 percent, its highest in 17 years, and nearly 800,000 people are living at the poverty line.
A car dealership employee from Jefferson City said she sees more McCain voters in town, but thinks Mr. Obama might win Missouri because “they are for the people, for the workers.”
Both voters attended an event starring vice presidential nominee Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the capital city’s Memorial Park, where a supporter enthusiastically responded to campaign promises with “Get ‘er done!”
However, along Missouri’s rural roads near the Ozark Mountains, there are troubling signs for the Democrats.
A mysterious billboard along Highway 63 in West Plains highlights Mr. Obama’s middle name, Hussein, and includes a drawing of the candidate wearing a turban, a takeoff on the inaccurate rumors Mr. Obama is not a Christian. It charges the Democrat would increase “abortions, same-sex marriages, taxes [and] gun regulations.”
A shop owner said he was appalled by the sign, which appeared one morning and has generated spirited discussion in the local paper the Daily Quill.
“It’s like the KKK. Someone put it up and no one will say who did it. I guess it’s well within your First Amendment rights, but you should own up to it,” he said.
Not far from the Obama billboard, another sign declared: “Had enough? Vote Democrat.”
Missouri has chosen the winner of the presidential election every cycle since 1956, and before that, every cycle since the turn of the century.
Mr. Obama, who declined to accept public funding and the limits it places on campaign spending, is dominating the heartland airwaves. Obama ads portraying the Democrat as the moderate on health care, attacking Mr. McCain for his health care plan and for proposing big spending are running more regularly than McCain ads across the Midwest.