SPRINGFIELD — When Missourians voted in the presidential primaries last week, there was no clear winner among Democratic candidates — except perhaps the Democrats in general.
Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton essentially tied in Missouri, each gaining 36 delegates to the Democratic National Convention under a complex formula used by the party.
But together, Obama, Clinton and several other Democrats received almost 60 percent of the vote, compared with a little more than 40 percent for the dozen Republicans led by Sen. John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney.
Based on the unofficial results, Democratic presidential candidates received 823,376 votes from Missourians while the Republicans got 588,849.
For MU political scientist David Webber, those numbers were more telling about the political mood of Missourians than the individual vote count for each candidate.
“It’s the first sign we have of how people may be leaning for November,” Webber said. “I would say the initial indication is that the Democrats seem to be favored, seem to have a leg up at this time. But a lot can happen between now and then.”
Missouri voters don’t need to declare allegiance to the Republican or Democratic parties to cast ballots in their primaries. That means independent voters can gravitate to whichever party or candidate they find most appealing. It also means people who normally vote Republican can cast a Democratic ballot, or vice versa.
Missouri’s past two presidential primaries haven’t provided much of a test of party strength, because one of the parties had either an incumbent president or vice president on the ballot. In 2000, it was Vice President Al Gore for the Democrats. In 2004, it was President Bush for the Republicans. In both cases, the rival party with the contested primary attracted more voters.
This time, Democrats and Republicans both had closely contested primaries, meaning voters had a real choice to make when picking which party’s ballot to take.
Based on the results, “Democrats are the big winners,” boasted Democratic Party spokesman Jack Cardetti. “You only get that if Democrats are energized and if you have moderates and independents who are voting Democrat this year.”
The results were somewhat worrisome for Republican House Speaker Rod Jetton, a political consultant who worked for Romney.
“The thing anybody should take from this is the Democrats are more excited to go out and vote than the Republicans are,” Jetton said, “and when you’re a Republican, that concerns you a little bit.”
But it doesn’t concern all Republicans.
In fact, Missouri Republican Party Chairman Doug Russell said: “I was not alarmed by that at all.”
Russell notes that Obama and Clinton each aired TV ads for about two weeks before the election — a sharp contrast with the Republican candidates who aired none or only limited TV ads a few days before the election.
“The campaign in Missouri on the Democratic side was more intense, and that tends to drive turnout for your party,” Russell said.
But “that will not be a trend in the fall,” added Russell, predicting of Republicans: “We will see significant — very significant — activity in Missouri.”
Republican consultant Jeff Roe, who is working for Huckabee, said even when Republicans and Democrats both have contested primaries, it’s natural to expect Democrats to turn out more voters in Missouri.
First, Democrats are more concentrated in the cities — “they all live within 50 miles of each other,” he said — so they are easier to target in a campaign than Republicans who are more dispersed among Missouri’s rural areas.
Also, Roe said, Democrats have more people like him — full-time political operatives, often working for organized interest groups that can better get their constituencies to vote. In a general election, those advantages are neutralized by a naturally larger voter turnout, he said.
Although not referencing Missouri’s primary election results, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour warned Missouri Republicans at their annual Lincoln Days conference that this year’s elections are different from those in the recent past.
In 2000 and 2004, Republicans won by doing a better job of getting their base supporters to vote, he said. But given the mood of the nation and the candidates on the ballot, it’s quite likely that some typically Republican voters may cast ballots for a Democrat this year and some typically Democratic voters may cast ballots for a Republican, Barbour said.
“This is going to be a different kind of election,” said Barbour, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee. “Millions and millions of voters are going to be in play.”
More than normal, Barbour said, that means this year’s campaigns will be ones of issues and persuasion.
“This is going to be a hard, tough, close set of elections for governor of Missouri and for president of the United States,” Barbour said.