Democrat Chuck Graham was the winner Tuesday night in the fight for 19th District state Senator, but not before Republican Mike Ditmore made him sweat.
Both candidates were wary of declaring triumph early, but by midnight, with 70 percent of the Boone and Randolph county precincts reporting, Graham had more than 53 percent of the vote to Ditmore’s 46.8 percent.
“I appreciate the confidence of the voters in the 19th District,” Graham said from the Democratic Party headquarters in Columbia. “It’s a referendum on the fact that I’ve done a good job the last eight years and they want me to continue working another four.”
Graham, 39, said his first focus as a senator would be helping secure student access to higher education.
Education was a key issue in the race, with Graham calling to remove gaming loss limits to increase funding and Ditmore saying the state needs to appropriate funds more consistently. Graham believes the foundation formula, which channels state funds to public schools, will have to be rewritten, a task the Senate may face in the next term.
Ditmore, 60, was confident in his early lead, but appeared resolved regardless of the outcome at a Republican party at the Holiday Inn Select.
“I think we did pretty much everything we could ... I feel comfortable about where I stood on issues,” he said.
But Graham’s name recognition and experience seemed to give him the winning advantage. The former 24th House representative has said repeatedly that the state Senate is “no place for on-the-job training,” referring to Ditmore’s political inexperience. The former neurosurgeon recently retired in part to run for his first political office.
Graham also criticized Ditmore’s contradictory stances on stem-cell research and for saying he would allow Southwest Missouri State University to be renamed Missouri State University so that it could pass a life sciences bond issue.
Ditmore accused Graham of having the “wrong priorities,” saying Graham’s sponsorship of a 2001 bill that allocated $35 million in state funds for the construction of the Paige Sports Arena at MU was inappropriate. He also spoke against Graham’s support of previous tax increases.
“I know I share one thing with voters: we are all tired with negative advertisements and are all ready for the election to be over,” Graham said.
Columbia voter John O’Connor, a 71-year-old retired professor, said he examined every candidate and issue and came to a dilemma when choosing between Graham and Ditmore.
“Ditmore didn’t impress me at all. Chuck Graham disappointed me that he voted for a second basketball arena when the university needs support for engineering, journalism — academic needs,” O’Connor said. He said that “when push came to shove,” he voted for Graham because of his more liberal perspective.
Graham has said he supports abortion rights but opposes concealed weapons and language defining marriage as existing only between a man and a woman. In August, voters approved an amendment defining marriage as such.
But these issues played a small role in both campaigns. Rather, tort reform came to the fore in Ditmore’s campaign as he called for a cap on “pain and suffering” damages awarded in lawsuits. Graham supports a cap only for medical malpractice.
Both candidates said they were relieved the election was over and are awaiting rest. Ditmore said he has not considered whether he will run for office again.