- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2008

COLUMBIA, Mo. | As Missouri goes, so goes the nation.

It’s an easy catchphrase for the ever-battleground Show Me State, but it has never rung more true than this anything-goes election cycle.

From Lee’s Summit - where the Republican ticket stumped Monday, to rural Dixon, where a “Veterans for Obama” button draws both cheers and sneers - Missourians are being inundated with reminders their votes matter more than ever.

Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama has come through Missouri six times since June, and his vice-presidential running mate will make two stops there Tuesday.

Republicans captured the state by more than seven percentage points in 2004, but there are hopeful signs for Democrats who are pushing the economy as the top issue.

The state is home to many key demographics - boasting high numbers of union members, farmers, evangelicals and veterans - but also suffering from record job losses as auto plants and other factories shut down. Its big cities have large black populations; the outer suburbs trend white.

Missouri voters have backed the winner in the last 10 presidential elections, and its 11 electoral votes would be a big boost to either candidate in the neck-and-neck race.

Team Obama has 40 offices statewide, many in rural areas to follow the successful strategy of Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, who defeated a Republican incumbent in 2006. A McCain spokesman did not respond to a request for number of offices or a tally of visits.

Democrats volunteering in the Obama office in Columbia, home to the University of Missouri, said they are pleased with the resources the campaign has poured into the state.

“It was basically ignored by Kerry,” said Kathleen Fitzgerald, a sociology professor at Columbia College, who has noticed a shift in the electorate since she volunteered for Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry in 2004.

“There seems to be a lot more excitement among young people,” she said. “It would be nice if we swung. I don’t think he’ll win the state, but it will be close.”

But Sen. John McCain holds a 7-point lead, according to a Real Clear Politics average of Missouri polls.

“This state, we must win, and we will win,” the Arizona senator said Monday while campaigning with his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Mr. Obama carved out a narrow Super Tuesday victory in Missouri during the Democratic primary battle with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, thanks in part to a high turnout of black voters in the St. Louis area. One of his first general election stops was to Cape Girardeau, the hometown of conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh.

Brenna Blazis, 17, won’t be old enough to vote Nov. 4. But the Rock Bridge High senior spends 40 hours a week interning in the Columbia office for the Obama campaign - making phone calls, getting people registered and educating voters about why she thinks the Illinois senator should be president.

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