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Columbia Missourian

Biden to woo Columbians in bellwether state

September 8, 2008 | 7:16 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Only three days after Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, spoke to a small gathering Saturday at MU, it's Joe Biden's turn to visit the city. The Democratic vice-presidential nominee will be speaking at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Activity and Recreation Center, 1701 W. Ash St.

"Missouri is a very important state," said Debbie Mesloh, a spokeswoman for the Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., campaign. "Senator Obama and Joe Biden want to spend time here to speak with voters and talk to them about their plan to improve the economy, to take the country back from the hands of the lobbyists."

Biden at a glance

FULL NAME: Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.
PARTY: Democrat
AGE: 65. He was born Nov. 20, 1942 in Scranton, Pa.
RELIGION: Roman Catholic
FAMILY: He is married to Jill Biden and has three grown children.
EDUCATION: Graduated from the University of Delaware in 1965 with a double major in history and political science, then graduated from Syracuse University College of Law in 1968.
CAREER TIMELINE: Served as public defender in Wilmington, Del., in 1968; elected to New Castle (Del.) County Council in 1970; elected U.S. senator from Delaware in 1972; ran for U.S. president in 1988; began second bid for presidency in 2007; chosen as Sen. Barack Obama’s vice presidential running mate in August.
OTHER CAREER INFO: Biden serves as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, and co-chairman of the Caucus on International Narcotics Control.

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MU political science professor Marvin Overby explained Missouri's historical significance.

"Missouri is a bellwether state," Overby said. "Every presidential election, from 1904 until now - except in 1956 - Missouri has been on the winning side. So it's a good measure of what the country is."

The lone exception occurred when Missouri awarded its 13 electoral votes to Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson, then-governor of Illinois, over Republican incumbent Dwight Eisenhower by a margin of fewer than 4,000 votes.

Columbia's large student population also is a likely factor in the campaign stop.

Though Mesloh emphasized that "every community is important to us," she noted that "students are very important to Obama. He's made it a priority."

"This is a friendly environment," Overby said, "and getting the Democrats fired up here would help Obama, but also Attorney General Jay Nixon," who is running for governor.

In Missouri, Republicans won in 2004 and 2000, but Overby said Democrats have done well here in recent years.

"The Republican governor (Matt Blunt) is not standing for the next term," he said. "Obama is still a bit behind McCain in Missouri, but Democrats have opened 24 or 25 offices in the state. They hired a lot of staff members. They really would like to carry this state."

The other side of the ballot, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, has visited Missouri a number of times since locking up the Republican nomination. McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, his vice presidential nominee, spoke at a rally outside St. Louis on Aug. 31, and paid Lee's Summit a visit Monday.

"McCain and Palin view Missouri as a battleground, and they want to keep it red," said Wendy Riemann, a campaign spokeswoman.

Riemann said that although she couldn't give specifics on strategy or future stops, the McCain campaign is trying to attract people of all ages and demographics.

The event's timing caught many by surprise because it was made public only two days before the speech.

Mesloh wouldn't say when Biden decided to come, or when she had learned about it.

"I don't know why it's so important to you" she replied. "We're very excited that he is coming, and we alerted the media as soon as we could."

Overby said the rush was not surprising.

"This is a dynamic campaign - things happen quickly, opportunities emerge," he said. "It wouldn't surprise me if they had not planned it ahead of time."