Ballots brim with big decisions

Gay marriage, governor’s race draw attention
Tuesday, August 3, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:24 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

KANSAS CITY — An incumbent governor in a fight for his political life and a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage are expected to bring national attention and a relatively high number of voters to Tuesday’s primary elections in Missouri.

Missouri also will nominate candidates to run for Rep. Dick Gephardt’s seat. Gephardt, a 14-term Democratic House leader from St. Louis, is retiring after his failed presidential bid.

Another House seat, in the Kansas City area, is open with the retirement of Rep. Karen McCarthy, a 10-year veteran who was accused of misusing government workers and campaign dollars for her own benefit.

A proposed constitutional amendment would allow a casino in the southwest Missouri town of Rockaway Beach. Supporters say the casino would revive the withering vacation spot; opponents say it will hurt the family atmosphere that draws nearly 7 million tourists a year to Branson, the nearby entertainment center.

In the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Gov. Bob Holden is trying to fend off State Auditor Claire McCaskill — the first serious same-party challenge of a sitting Missouri governor since 1980.

McCaskill has criticized Holden as an ineffective leader in fights with a Republican-led legislature.

Holden argues he stood his ground and protected state funding for education and health care despite a difficult state budget.

Most of the state’s leading Democrats support Holden, but McCaskill has been endorsed by nearly every newspaper in the state. A media poll, conducted about two weeks ago, showed Holden with only a slight edge. The winner is expected to face Republican Secretary of State Matt Blunt in the Nov. 2 general election.

The proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage is being watched closely by supporters and gay rights advocates across the country because it is the first such amendment on the ballot since Massachusetts legalized gay marriages last year. Both sides are watching the vote to determine strategies for upcoming battles; as many as 12 other states may vote on similar amendments this fall.

Nine Democrats, two Republicans and a Libertarian are vying to replace Gephardt in the 3rd Congressional District, a St. Louis-area district that has been a Democratic stronghold for decades. Most observers favor state Rep. Russ Carnahan, who benefits from being the son of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan and former U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan.

Across the state, the Rev. Emanuel Cleaver, former mayor of Kansas City, is trying to hold off newcomer Jamie Metzl in the Democratic primary for the 5th Congressional District, which encompasses Kansas City and parts of surrounding suburbs.

In other races, incumbent Reps. William Lacy Clay, Ike Skelton, Todd Akin, Roy Blunt, Sam Graves and Kenny C. Hulshof have no primary opponents. Rep. JoAnn Emerson and U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, both Republicans, have primary opponents but are expected to easily win.

Blunt, the secretary of state, predicted about 37 percent of the state’s voters will go to the polls Tuesday, which would be much higher than recent primaries. In 2002, 25.4 percent voted in the primary; 22 percent voted in 2000.

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