COLUMBIA — Today is an unusual election day for Stephen Webber.
It's 11 a.m., but instead of launching a final canvassing volley to secure voters in his 23rd District, Webber is headed south on Providence Road to help out fellow candidate Mary Still. Webber plans to beat the street for Still this afternoon after first doing some door knocking for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Attorney General Jay Nixon.
Such back-scratching is a luxury few candidates can afford so close to the final reckoning. Webber is an exception. He locked up his 23rd District seat in the General Assembly back on Aug. 5 by winning his district's Democratic primary. He is unopposed on Tuesday's ballot.
At Still's headquarters, a volunteer immediately asks our Missourian photographer if he's had a chance to vote yet.
"That's how you tell that this campaign has a race today," Webber jokes. "The first thing I asked you was ‘How are you doing?' The first thing they'll say is "Have you voted yet?"
The pressure may be off Webber for now, but he has stayed on the campaign trail these past three months. Webber has kept himself busy working to run paid canvassing campaigns for Nixon, Sen. Chuck Graham and other candidates.
"It's like being a free agent. You just go where you're needed," he says .
Webber also spent time traveling around Missouri with Secretary of State Robin Carnahan to promote awareness of an electronic voting system that allows Missourians in combat zones to submit their vote via fax or email. Webber was stationed in Fallujah as a Marine during the 2006 election, and, as a veteran of two Iraq tours of duty, has become something of a spokesperson for the program.
Involving himself in the campaigns of his fellow candidates has as much to do with providing therapeutic support as it does logistical help on the ground.
"It's an interesting position," Webber says. "I'm one of the few who has been on the ballot recently, and because I'm not as stressed out, I try to listen, to empathize, with the other candidates.
"Many on the ballot are like my friends — Baker, Graham, Kelly," Webber says. "They are going trough a trial today. A crucible. I feel like I owe it to them to help out as much as I can."
Webber drives to the neighborhoods Nixon needs helps with. It's his current neighborhood, as well as the one where he grew up. Golden leaves rustle in the warmest wind Webber can remember on any election day.
"It's kind of funny because in 2000 I took the day off of high school to canvass on Election Day," Webber says. "Eight years later as an elected official, I'm still doing the same thing I did in high school."
Webber says he's sleeping better now than when his campaign was under way, and he's not nervous in the same jarring way. The early victory has other advantages. Webber says he's had the chance to think about legislation and policy while the other candidates remain fixated on their campaigns.
"I don't think it's set in yet," Webber says. "I don't think it will until I actually get to Jefferson City. A lot of kids dream of playing professional baseball, and I dreamed about representing Columbia. It's an honor to have that chance."