COLUMBIA — With the primary election in the past and the general election bearing down, the Missouri campaign of President Barack Obama is struggling to match its 2008 effort.
Missouri historically has been known as a swing state, but in recent presidential elections it has leaned decidedly toward conservative candidates, particularly outside Boone County, St. Louis and Kansas City.
In 2008, Republican candidate John McCain won Missouri with 49.4 percent of the vote, a mere 0.1 percent more than Obama. A July 30 poll by Rasmussen Reports, though, shows that Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and presumed Republican nominee, leads Obama among likely voters in Missouri 50 percent to 44 percent. The poll, however, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent, making the race a statistical dead heat.
In Boone County, Democratic Party activists are optimistic Obama can hang with Romney in Missouri, but organizing and local grassroots efforts have dwindled significantly since 2008.
Local Obama campaign fellow Amanda Prasuhn did not return calls from the Missourian. Carl Walz, who is listed on the Obama for America website as the Missouri field director of Obama's grassroots re-election campaign, also did not respond to voice mail messages over the past several weeks.
Another clue to the lack of enthusiasm for a Missouri campaign can be found on the Obama for America website, where you can select a state to view. But when you click on Missouri, up pops a page that shows very few events scheduled.
Phyllis Fugit, a longtime Boone County Democrat, said she has noticed a lack of enthusiasm among Columbia Democrats. "People just don't seem too excited," she said.
Obama in 2008 had a downtown office in Columbia where supporters could grab buttons, bumper stickers and literature about his campaign. It's also where volunteers gathered and organized for the campaign.
This year, the Obama campaign will not be opening an office in Columbia, Fugit said. At the small Boone County Democrat headquarters at 912 E. Walnut St., Obama buttons and bumper stickers are available, but the Obama administration has sent no new material.
"We had to purchase those buttons," Fugit said.
Chicago attorney and political analyst Russ Stewart has watched the Obama campaign's presence decline in several states, including Missouri and West Virginia. He cited a shifting political environment.
"Missouri has trended conservative in the last three years," Stewart said, noting U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is among the more vulnerable Senate candidates seeking re-election. Money spent by Obama in Missouri would be money wasted, he said.
Romney focusing on Missouri
Meanwhile, Romney's campaign is strong in Missouri. In the past two months, it has opened five "Victory Offices" dedicated to hosting forums, inviting the public to learn more about Romney and helping people register to vote.
In a July news release, the Republican National Committee described Romney's strategy in Missouri.
"Missouri is a traditional bellwether state, and the opening of these offices reinforces commitment to running an aggressive grassroots operation in Missouri and defeating Barack Obama in November," said Lane Koch, director of Missouri Victory.
Bellwether state or not, most predict that Missouri will be a win for Romney.
"We rated Missouri as a solid Romney state," said Jessica Taylor of the Rothenberg Political Report. "McCain carried it narrowly in 2008, but popularity has fallen. Since (Obama) didn't carry it before, it doesn't make sense for him to use resources there now. He needs to focus more on Florida, Ohio, Virginia."
Tom Brandt, Missouri Victory communications director for the Romney campaign, said that despite the nearest campaign office being in Jefferson City, Romney does not plan to ignore Columbia.
"We're going to have unofficial mobile headquarters set up a few nights a week with the Mizzou College Republicans," Brandt said. "They're going to start registering voters, hosting events, going door to door, calling. It's always great to have young people involved, especially in a college town like Columbia."
Obama for America has made no such attempts, Fugit said. Although there was word of a possible Obama rally in Columbia over the summer, Fugit "has not heard from them in a long time."
Still, there's hope for Obama in Missouri, said Scott Cristal, secretary of the Boone County Democratic Party Central Committee and public relations coordinator for the Boone County Muleskinners. He said a shipment of Obama signs is on its way to Columbia.
"I've been hearing more and more people get excited as it gets closer to the election," he said.