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Columbia Missourian

McCain, Obama race tests Missouri's bellwether status

By DAVID A. LIEB/The Associated Press
November 5, 2008 | 4:17 a.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Never has a Democrat won the presidency without Missouri — until, perhaps, now.

Although the race remained too close to call, Republican John McCain clung to a small advantage in Missouri early Wednesday over Democrat Barack Obama, who already had locked up a national electoral victory.

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With all precincts reporting results, McCain led Obama by 5,853 votes out of more than 2.9 million counted — a difference of 0.2 percentage points. Also outstanding were about 7,000 provisional ballots, which are counted only if a voters' eligibility can be verified.

At stake were two presidential voting streaks that have earned Missouri a swing-state reputation.

Missouri has had plenty of close elections, both before and after then.

The narrowest margin of victory occurred in 1908, when Republican William Howard Taft won by 449 votes out of 716,788 cast — a margin of 0.06 percentage points — over Democrat William Jennings Bryan.

This year, both McCain and Obama put a heavy emphasis on Missouri.

The race was closer than Republican President Bush's 53 percent Missouri victory four years ago, because Obama cut into the GOP victory margin in many rural counties while expanding the size of the Democratic advantage in some urban areas.

The swing area of Buchanan County went from red to blue, with Obama winning by a few dozen votes over McCain — a contrast to Bush's 52 percent victory there in 2004.

This year, about three-fifths of Missouri voters said that the economy was the most important issue facing the country, and about 9-in-10 labeled the economy as not good or poor, according to results from The Associated Press exit polls.

Obama appeared to attract more first-time voters than McCain.

"He's the first person that actually expresses everything where people who don't have education can understand what our country is going through, (such as) how we're at war for no reason," said new voter Tendisha Callaway, 28, of Jefferson City. "Growing up, I felt like voting was just a waste of time. I figured this time, maybe it might help, maybe it would make a difference."

McCain, a Navy veteran who was a Vietnam prisoner of war, generally fared better among Missouri's older voters.

"I have all the respect in the world for a man who has given over five years in a prison camp for this country," said Carl Olson, 62, who voted at the same precinct as Callaway. "I feel so sorry that so many young people can't recognize what that means. They would whimper and whine if the wrong TV program came on."