JEFFERSON CITY — Republican Secretary of State Matt Blunt won Missouri’s hard-fought gubernatorial race early today, riding an overwhelming rural vote to a narrow victory over Democratic State Auditor Claire McCaskill.
Blunt, the son of third-ranking GOP Rep. Roy Blunt, will become Missouri’s second youngest governor when sworn into office in January. His victory also will give Republicans full control of the Capitol for the first time in 82 years.
The Associated Press projected Blunt’s victory based on actual results with 87 percent of precincts reporting and analysis of the outstanding ballots.
At press time, Blunt led McCaskill by about 3 percentage points — 1,167,256 votes to 1,106,464.
Blunt built large leads in much of rural Missouri — quadrupling, for example, McCaskill’s vote in the western county of Barton and doubling it in several others where all precincts were reporting.
Buchanan County, home of St. Joseph, went narrowly for Blunt with all precincts reporting — a partisan reversal from 2000 when it went narrowly for Democratic Bob Holden over Republican Jim Talent.
McCaskill countered victories in St. Louis and Jackson counties. She also had a large early lead in the Democratic stronghold of St. Louis City, where a number of ballots were still outstanding because long lines caused voting to continue until nearly 10 p.m. — three hours after the polls closed.
McCaskill took over the state Democratic Party by defeating Holden in the Aug. 3 primary — the first time an incumbent Missouri governor had ever lost a primary. Blunt was his party’s chosen candidate from the start.
A statistical analysis of exit poll information showed McCaskill faring best among voters who cited the economy, jobs, education and health care as their most important issues. Blunt was strongest among those citing same-sex marriage, abortion, gun control and taxes as their biggest issues.
The exit poll information was based on voter interviews conducted for The Associated Press by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.
The gubernatorial winner was assured a place in Missouri history: McCaskill would be Missouri’s first female governor; Blunt would be its second youngest.
Those distinctions came into play in the campaign as McCaskill, 51, touted her professional and personal experiences and Blunt, 33, held himself out as the only real chance for change in Jefferson City.