JEFFERSON CITY — Senate candidate Sarah Steelman finished third after campaigning with a slogan of "the status quo has got to go" in Missouri's Republican primary earlier this year. Perhaps that was a sign of things to come.
Missouri voters came to a pretty resounding conclusion in Tuesday's general election. It might best be described as "gung ho for the status quo."
With the notable of exception of Missouri's preference for Republican challenger Mitt Romney over Democratic President Barack Obama, voters rejected change in virtually every significant race and ballot proposal.
The list is long:
- Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill defeated Republican challenger Todd Akin.
- Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon defeated Republican challenger Dave Spence.
- Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder defeated Democratic challenger Susan Montee.
- Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster defeated Republican challenger Ed Martin.
- Democratic Treasurer Clint Zweifel defeated Republican challenger Cole McNary.
- Every incumbent member of Congress, be they Republicans or Democrats, won re-election.
- Republicans maintained their large majorities in the state House and Senate, with a net change of only a few seats.
- Every judge up for re-election was retained, including St. Louis County Associate Circuit Judge Dale Hood, who a judicial evaluation panel had recommended be ousted from office.
- A proposition to raise Missouri's tobacco taxes was defeated, keeping the state's 17-cent-a-pack cigarette tax the lowest in the nation.
- A proposition to change the screening panels for vacancies on appellate courts was defeated, keeping Missouri's current judicial selection process in place.
On election night, the winning candidates interpreted their victories as a sign that voters were pleased with their leadership. The defeat of the tobacco tax hike — for the third time in a decade — confirmed that Missourians are skeptical of tax increases. And opponents of the judicial ballot measure said its defeat was a strong indication that residents like the way their courts operate.
"For the most part, Missourians aren't looking to change things in any dramatic fashion," said Peverill Squire, a political science professor at MU. "I'm not sure there's any great appetite for larger changes in terms of economic policies or even social policies."
Avoiding change was not the case elsewhere. Voters in Maine and Maryland became the first states to approve same-sex marriage via a ballot proposal. Voters in Colorado and Washington legalized recreational use of marijuana. And California voters approved a general sales tax hike and an income tax increase for those making more than $250,000 annually to help balance the state budget.
The fondness for sameness in Missouri comes despite an aggressive effort by some challengers to make the case for change. Spence built his gubernatorial campaign around an assertion that Missouri's economy is in poor shape. Akin's senatorial campaign focused on his desire to undo Obama's 2010 health care law and return to an era of smaller government. It was, in essence, a plea to reject the new status quo in favor of a prior one.
Indeed, many people who voted for challengers expressed frustration with the economy and a desire for change when interviewed by Associated Press reporters at voting sites. A separate exit poll of 2,103 Missouri voters, conducted for the AP at 35 randomly sampled precincts by Edison Research, found that about four out of five voters rated the economy as either "poor" or "not so good." And most voters picked the economy as the most important issue facing the country instead of health care, the federal budget deficit or foreign policy.
Yet voters' assessment of the economy apparently did not translate into a desire to oust incumbents other than Obama.
George Connor, the head of the political science department at Missouri State University, said voters might not have meant to back the status quo, but that was just the result when they considered races on a case-by-case basis. Many factors were involved in individual campaigns, most notably in the U.S. Senate race, where the exit poll showed that many voters paid attention to Akin's much-criticized remark about women having a biological defense against pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape."
"I think people were consciously choosing Claire McCaskill over Todd Akin as an individual choice as opposed to maintaining the status quo. And I think that is true for Nixon and Spence as well," Connor said. "There is a level of individual choice all the way up and down the ballot."
David A. Lieb has covered state government and politics for The Associated Press since 1995. He can be reached at http://twitter.com/DavidALieb.