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Election 2008: Previewing the Missouri Primaries

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David Helling
Multimedia Reporter, Kansas City Star
Monday, February 4, 2008; 10:00 AM

Kansas City Star political reporter Dave Helling was online Monday, Feb. 4 at 10 a.m. ET to take your questions on Missouri's Super Tuesday primaries, how they're likely to play out and how things look in Missouri for both November's presidential election and the state's gubernatorial race.

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The transcript follows.

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zbob99: Overnight polling is showing major movement towards Obama in several keys states including California, Missouri, and New Jersey. It could be a very big night for Obama on Tuesday.

David Helling: Last week a Rasmussen poll had Obama down 19 points in Missouri; now McClatchy-MSNBC has Clinton up 6. So it's clear there's some movement his way in the state, but it isn't clear if he has enough time to seal the deal. Most of the Democrats I've talked with think Obama could win the state if he had another week, or just had Missouri to worry about.

As it is, though, Clinton and Obama likely will split the 72 pledged delegates in Missouri -- which, again, likely will mirror the country as a whole.

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Gibson, Mo.: The news of Governor Matt Blunt's decision not to run for a second term for governor of Missouri was a big surprise. Gov. Blunt's campaign had taken money from Jack Abramoff in 2004. Is this another casualty of the Abramoff scandal, and do you see Reps. Jo Ann Emerson or Roy Blunt leaving Congress to run for governor?

David Helling: Gov. Matt Blunt's decision almost certainly was unrelated to the Abramoff scandal -- although there are other issues, such as Gov. Blunt's e-mail policies, that may have been at work.

Roy Blunt and Jo Ann Emerson aren't likely gubernatorial candidates. The Republicans will put up Sarah Steelman, Ken Hulshof and Peter Kinder. The Democrats are sticking with Jay Nixon.

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jb326200: Jay Nixon is a very very well-known quantity -- he has been attorney general since 1993. Jim Talent (and any St. Louis based Republican) won't win. Emerson is a solid choice -- but Nixon will win ... put a fork in it.

David Helling: I wouldn't be too sure. Jay Nixon has problems within his own party, particularly with African American voters, although he's been working to correct that. Nixon also has lost a statewide Senate race.

More than that, though, Missouri is increasingly a red state -- witness the Blunt choice four years ago. Sen. Claire McCaskill and others have been working to change that around, and we'll see if things change by November. The top of the ticket could be important, too.

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Curious About Blunt's Motives: I was born and raised in St. Louis but relocated with my husband to a wonderful, progressive Southern state. We were anti-Matt Blunt for a variety of reasons, including his youth (and I am his age, so I can say that). Why is he not running again? He seems to have a compulsive ambition. I think he is out because he wants to keep his record strong so that he can run for president. What say you?

David Helling: I don't think Matt Blunt has plans to run for president anytime soon. He may have pulled out to maintain viability for a future race, but president isn't it.

I think he withdrew because his wife's heart wasn't in it, and the two of them didn't want to spend the next nine months working seven days a week and possibly still lose the race.

I do think some Republicans are miffed that he waited so long to get out.

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Reading, Pa.: David: In general was Bill Clinton well regarded in Missouri when he was president, or were all his peccadilloes in policy and his personal life distasteful to the Midwestern mindset?

David Helling: Bill Clinton was well-regarded among constituent groups: labor, African Americans, etc.

But you're right -- his well-known White House problems were a significant concern for Missouri's more culturally conservative Democrats. (In 2000, at the Democratic National Convention, I was told by a big Al Gore supporter -- a union guy -- that Gore had no chance in the state because "he wants to take our guns away.")

Democrats here will tell you that's why they have Clinton fatigue. There's a large part of the electorate that is just tired of the Clintons, and worried about their impact at the top of the ticket.

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washingtonpost.com: What has made Missouri a swing state in both primaries this year (and to a lesser extent in the general election)? What groups have the best get-out-the-vote records?

David Helling: Missouri is always a "swing state" because it mirrors the country demographically -- it's got urban areas, rural areas, a minority community, the southern part of the state has lots of evangelicals, etc.

There has been much more energy here from the Democrats for Super Tuesday than from Republicans. Clinton and Obama have made appearances, run commercials, and they have offices and surrogates on the ground. As I said earlier they likely will split the 72 delegates up for grabs tomorrow.

The Republicans have made less of an effort here, which I find a little surprising. It's a winner-take-all play -- at 58 delegates -- and if polling holds McCain will take the state with about 35-38 percent of the Republican vote.

I'm surprised Mitt Romney, and to a lesser extent Mike Huckabee, didn't compete harder here. (Huckabee's out of money, I know.)

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Lake Forest, Ill.: It is time to put all our differences aside and look at the facts before us -- as a nation that is united regardless of color, race, religion or sex. Why do the American people have such "short memories" regarding the candidates that are running for President? There is no mention of John McCain's failed attempt at "trying to silence our 1st Amendment rights" -- nor of Kennedy and McCain trying to pass the largest amnesty in U.S. history. If the man can't secure his own Arizona border -- how is he going to secure our country?

David Helling: Immigration is a big issue in Missouri -- we had a regional meeting of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps in Kansas City on Friday and Saturday -- so you'd think John McCain would have a bigger problem here than he does. Unless his opponents make an issue of McCain's immigration position, though, voters won't focus as much on it, and so far Romney and Huckabee haven't made a big deal out of it.

(Remember, in rural areas, immigration reform is a mixed blessing: some farming communities like what they see as the low-cost labor.)

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washingtonpost.com: How have the candidates been received in the state as they have campaigned there this past week? Rudy Giuliani made several stops in the state before the Florida primary knocked him out of the race; where do you think his supporters go?

David Helling: Barack Obama has had nice crowds -- 5,000 in Kansas City, 20,000 in St. Louis. And he hasn't disappointed them. But it isn't clear if that enthusiasm will translate into votes -- that's the big question with Obama's campaign nationally.

Bill Clinton got a pretty big crowd here, and of course Sen. Clinton was in St. Louis on Sunday, too, where she got a warm reception.

Kit Bond was a Giuliani guy, but hasn't endorsed anyone else yet. The bigger question is where John Edwards's support goes for the Democrats; Edwards was pretty popular here.

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Anonymous: This is a side point, but Kenny Hulshof's 9th congressional district was held by a Democrat (Harold Volkmer) for a long time until 1996. If Hulshof vacated his House seat to run for governor, I'd expect/hope the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee would take a close look at the district. So far, Missouri looks likely to lose its ninth House seat in the 2010 reapportionment. That further complicates things and makes them more interesting...

David Helling: The DCCC may spend some time and money in the district, although it's pretty far away from Kansas City, so I'm not really up on the dynamics of that race.

The DCCC will be in Missouri big time for Kay Barnes, the former Kansas City mayor and Democrat facing Rep. Sam Graves. President Bush was in Kansas City on Friday to raise cash for Graves.

Both sides already have pocketed $1 million each. It may be one of the key House races in the nation.

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Re: Huckabee as a spoiler?: Does it hurt or help Romney when he highlights Huckabee as a spoiler -- "if it weren't for you, I would win"?

David Helling: I think it makes people mad, particularly in southwest Missouri, when Romney calls Huckabee a "spoiler." Plus I'm not sure that, if Huckabee gets out, all of those conservative, evangelical votes go to Romney -- remember, he's flipped a bit on abortion.

I'm sure Huckabee looks at a state like Missouri and concludes he's got a chance here, if he gets 30 percent or 35 percent and McCain slips. And it's winner take all, at low cost. ... I don't think he's a spoiler at all.

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Re: John McCain's negatives: Conservatives have a visceral antipathy to John McCain, but Mitt Romney is not a true conservative either, and is reviled among evangelicals (who are also considered conservatives), so why would the conservatives support Mitt instead of just sitting it out?

David Helling: Nothing is funnier than listening to Rush Limbaugh -- who's from Missouri, as you may know -- struggle with the McCain/Romney choice. I think if you asked Limbaugh (and Missouri Republicans who share his views) if he's overjoyed with Romney, he'd say no.

Incidentally, there is a sizable Mormon community near Kansas City that could help Romney (his wife is out there today). At the same time, we're watching the evangelical vote to see if Romney's religion is a negative factor.

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washingtonpost.com: What's the advertising situation like out there? Any push-polling going on?

David Helling: The ads on the Democratic side have been pretty slow; the Republicans, virtually nonexistent. One of the problems for TV ads in Missouri is that, in the big markets -- Kansas City and St. Louis -- you have to buy parts of Kansas and Illinois, too. It's pretty costly.

Incidentally, I think Obama will win the Kansas Democratic caucus on Super Tuesday

Some phone calls, but no push polls -- yet -- that we've heard about.

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Greenwood, Mo.: Dave, why do you do this chat for the Washington Post, but your own paper The Kansas City Star doesn't do any? Seems odd to me. I got calls over the weekend from McCain and Romney and wonder why. Absolutely nothing in my background would tell them I plan on voting for either of them. How did they get my name?

David Helling: I assume you're a registered Republican, and you got calls for that reason. Huckabee's probably out of cash to do phone banks.

We'll do chats here soon -- between the videos, breaking news and in-depth stuff.

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Kansas City: Next time you see Claire McCaskill, who got my vote in 2006, tell her that I would have preferred her to stay out of the presidential endorsement business. I didn't like it and will vote accordingly. So do you believe her story on The Snub -- I found it far-fetched since the tape and pictures don't support it.

David Helling: Lots of people are endorsing in Missouri -- Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, former Rep. Dick Gephardt and former Gov. Bob Holden are Clinton endorses -- McCaskill and former Sen. Jean Carnahan are in Obama's camp.

Nothing wrong with any of that as far as I can see. You can listen to endorsements, or not.

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Oakland, Pa.: Do you think that Dick Gephardt may get tapped as vice president by either Clinton or Obama? Could he make a difference in who carries Missouri in November?

David Helling: Good question. I think Gephardt would help some in the state, although he's not universally popular here.

But Missouri is an important state nationally. It seems to me the veep picks this year will be made with an eye towards taking at least one state that might go the other way.

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washingtonpost.com: A number of recent polls have Huckabee beating McCain for second-place in Missouri. Obviously that doesn't matter in a winner-take-all contest, but do you think that will happen? And if Huckabee weren't in the race, would Romney win handily?

David Helling: As I said earlier, I'm not sure all of Huckabee's votes would go to Romney. But a two-person race would have been closer, and my guess is that both candidates would have worked harder here. That could have changed the outcome.

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David Helling: Thanks for all the good questions. Keep an eye on Missouri tomorrow -- if Obama is winning here, Clinton may be in trouble; the same could be said if Romney has a lead over McCain.

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