GovernorJay Nixon (D)
SenatorsChristopher (Kit) Bond (R)
Claire McCaskill (D)
- 4 D, 5 R
- 1 through 9
St. Louis, established by French frontiersmen and acquired by the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase, was the place where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out on their expedition to the Pacific in May 1804. On high ground just below the point where the Missouri River swirls into the Mississippi, St. Louis was then the one well-established city in America’s interior, with an aristocracy of French merchants, a brawling bourgeoisie of Yankee and Southern frontiersmen and fur traders, and a proletariat of black slaves. Several years later, in 1821, the city was part of the new state of Missouri, and for decades St. Louis and Missouri were the gateways to the frontier. West of St. Louis, Daniel Boone finally found elbow room; St. Joseph was the eastern terminus of the Pony Express; Westport, now part of Kansas City, was the starting point of the Santa Fe Trail. The Mississippi River steamboats celebrated by Mark Twain linked North and South before the Civil War; afterward, railroads reached across the continent, connecting the farmers on the prairies with their markets.
Missouri was not just the gateway to the frontier; it was also a focus of the furious battle over slavery. Missouri was the northernmost slave state in 1850. Missouri ruffians rode across the border and killed antislavery settlers in the Kansas Territory—acts that led proximately to the Civil War. The state had its own bloody civil war in the hilly counties along the Missouri River and in the southwest. Throughout the 19th century, both before and after the Civil War, Americans turned away from their oceans and headed inward to settle the great interior of the continent. They found Missouri at its heart, with farmland and mines, rivers and railroads and factories. In 1874, the Eads Bridge opened, one of the very few spans on the Mississippi, and St. Louis’s Cupples Station was the largest rail hub in the world. At the turn of the 20th century, Missouri was the fifth-largest state and St. Louis was the fourth-largest city, site of the 1904 World’s Fair and one of the few cities with two major league baseball teams, the Cardinals and the Browns. Missouri after the 1900 census had 16 congressional districts.
Today, Missouri does not loom as large in the national consciousness, yet it is in some ways still central. In the 20th century, Americans—like the Browns, who moved to Baltimore in the 1950s, and the football Cardinals, who moved to Phoenix in the 1980s—increasingly headed toward the coasts, to the big cities of the East and West, and eventually to Florida and Texas. Missouri has had below-average population growth since 1900, and today it is the 17th-largest state, with just nine congressional districts. But Missouri was the geographic center of the nation’s population in the 2000 census: an imaginary, flat map of the United States population, if everyone weighed the same, would balance near Edgar Springs in Phelps County, Mo. Missouri started perking up demographically in the 1990s, growing 9%, its greatest decennial increase in a century. Growth was particularly strong in the outer suburbs of St. Louis and Kansas City, and in the Ozarks. Dozens of rural counties that had been losing population for most of the 20th century started regaining it. The state economy, long sluggish, was showing signs of solid growth. Some of St. Louis’s major companies were acquired by outside firms—McDonnell-Douglas, TWA, Ralston Purina, May Department Stores, Monsanto, and Anheuser-Busch—yet St. Louis still produces lots of airplanes, chemicals, and beer. Meanwhile, unnoticed on the coasts, the Lake of the Ozarks region in central Missouri and southwest Missouri around the country music center of Branson have been attracting modest-income retirees looking for traditional lifestyles and inexpensive recreation.
Culturally, Missouri remains more conservative than most of the bigger states. Its relatively slow-growing metro areas have not overwhelmed the countryside, a land of farms and small towns thick with churches and modest-income shopping centers and laced with artificial lakes and boat launches. Only one town in rural Missouri, Springfield, has more than 150,000 residents, and in the state’s 103 rural counties, life—and politics—seem not to have changed much over the past half-century. Missouri has some tough immigration laws, even though it has attracted relatively few immigrants. Local police agencies have seized many methamphetamine labs, but the state has one of the nation’s few declining prison populations.
For more than a century, Missouri has been one of America’s political bellwether states. It voted for every presidential winner but two from 1904 to 2008, narrowly backing Adlai Stevenson in 1956 and John McCain in 2008. From the 1960s to the 1990s, it mirrored national trends by moving its congressional politics from fairly solidly Democratic to leaning Republican. Starting with the excruciatingly close presidential vote in 2000, the results in Missouri have been very tight as well. In the state’s 10 contests for president, senator, and governor between 2000 and 2008, only two were decided by wide margins: Republican Sen. Christopher (Kit) Bond’s re-election in 2004 and Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s election in 2008. In the eight other contests, Republicans got between 47% and 53% of the vote, Democrats between 46% and 50%.
The patterns in these 21st-century elections were very different from what prevailed for most of the 20th century. Then, Missouri’s old Civil War political divisions still held: Democrats dominated in Little Dixie in the northeast, first settled by Virginians, and in the northwest, settled by Southerners. Republicans held sway in the Ozarks in the southwest, which was pro-Union, and the southeast was split, like next-door downstate Illinois. Now the real divide is between the state’s two big metropolitan areas and the rural rest of Missouri. The St. Louis metro area voted 54%-45% for John Kerry in 2004; metro Kansas City, about half as big, voted 52%-47% for Kerry. But the rest of Missouri, casting 43% of the votes, went 63%-36% for George W. Bush. In 2008, Missourians moved toward the Democrats almost uniformly across the state, but not quite far enough to give Barack Obama Missouri’s 11 electoral votes. Obama carried metro St. Louis 59%-41%, a big gain over 2004, and metro Kansas City 56%-43%, a similar gain. The rest of Missouri voted 59%-40% for McCain, and the Republican nominee carried 107 of 115 counties.
In downballot races, ancestrally Democratic rural counties have taken to electing Republicans to Congress and the state Legislature. Although Democrats seriously contested the open 9th Congressional District seat in 2008, they did not make much headway in state legislative races, gaining three seats in the House but losing three in the Senate. That left solid Republican majorities in both state chambers despite the election of Democrat Nixon as governor by an impressive 58%-40%. So, Missouri remains closely balanced politically, just as it is uniquely divided in another way: It is the only state whose name is pronounced two ways, depending on the region. In metro St. Louis, they say “Missouree;” in the rest of the state, it’s “Missouruh.”
2008 Presidential Vote
2008 Democratic Presidential Primary
2008 Republican Presidential Primary
In 2008, Missouri departed from its pattern as a bellwether state by preferring McCain, who lost the presidential election to Obama. But in this race, and in both the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries, Missouri was the site of some of the closest contests in the nation. On February 5, Obama won the Democratic primary over Hillary Rodham Clinton, 49.3%-47.9%. McCain won the Republican primary over Mike Huckabee, 33%-31.5%, with Mitt Romney capturing 29.3% of the vote. On November 4, McCain carried Missouri with 49.4% to 49.3% for Obama. Altogether, these three contests were decided by popular-vote margins totaling 24,046 votes out of 4.3 million cast.
All three elections showed similar patterns. Obama benefited in both the Democratic primary and general election by winning huge margins in St. Louis City; St. Louis County, whose population is now more than 20% black; and Jackson County, which includes most of the central city of Kansas City and some of its suburbs. In the primary, he also carried the counties including the state capital (Cole), the University of Missouri (Boone), and Northwest Missouri State University (Nodaway). In the general election, he carried rough-hewn Jefferson County south of St. Louis, Washington and Iron counties (old mining territory), Boone County, and Buchanan County (St. Joseph).
The pattern was a little more complicated in the three-way Republican primary. Romney, with his heavy television advertising and his appeal to high-income voters, carried most of the Kansas City media market plus Boone and Cole counties, St. Charles County (St. Louis exurbs), and Cape Girardeau County (Rush Limbaugh’s hometown). McCain carried St. Louis City and St. Louis County, Jefferson and Franklin counties to the south and west, and a swath of counties in north-central Missouri. Huckabee, riding his strong appeal to evangelical conservatives, carried southwest Missouri by a wide margin and Little Dixie counties in the northeast.
Missouri joined the Super Tuesday primary for 1988, returned to multitiered caucuses to elect delegates in 1992 and 1996, then rejoined Super Tuesday in 2000. Expected victories for Missouri natives did not result: both Bill Bradley in 2000 and Dick Gephardt in 2004 were effectively out of the race before Missourians got to vote. In 2008, Obama’s narrow victory over Clinton did not cost her much momentum, thanks to the Democrats’ proportional representation delegate-allocation rules. But McCain’s narrow victory, with less than one-third of the total votes, gave him all 58 of Missouri’s GOP delegates thanks to the party’s winner-take-all rules. That narrow victory played a key role in forcing Romney out of the race for the Republican nomination immediately; he was joined a few weeks later by Huckabee.
|111th Congress: 4 D, 5 R|
Missouri did not lose any seats in the 2000 census, and control of redistricting was split between the parties: Democrats held the governorship and had a majority in the state House; Republicans had an 18-16 edge in the state Senate. The main problem was how to adjust for the declining population of St. Louis. Back in 1950, the city had 856,000 residents, enough for almost three congressional districts. By 2000, it had 348,000, not enough for half a district. But it is heavily Democratic, and in early 2001, 1st District Rep. William Lacy Clay was demanding more of the city, to keep the black percentage in his district above 50%. That was resisted by 3rd District Rep. Gephardt because the Democrat didn’t want his district moved farther out into Republican suburbs. In April, Gephardt and Clay met at the St. Louis Labor Central headquarters and made a deal; the city would be divided roughly along Interstate 44.
In early May, Democrats passed a plan in the House that protected all incumbents and largely followed the Gephardt-Clay deal. In the Senate, Republicans prepared a proposal that would have given Gephardt a much more Republican district, but Democrats filibustered to keep it from the floor. On May 11, a deal was reached. Gephardt got the agreed-on portion of St. Louis and the close-in, increasingly Democratic suburbs of Maplewood, Richmond Heights, Clayton, and University City. Clay got the increasingly black northern suburbs of Florissant, Hazelwood, Bridgeton, and St. Ann plus affluent Creve Coeur and Ladue. Republican Todd Akin of the 2nd District lost all of those areas and got Sunset Hills, Sappington, and Concord from Gephardt’s old district and new territory in suburban St. Charles and rural Lincoln counties. Akin was the only incumbent who didn’t like the plan, but he said he wouldn’t challenge it in court. It was a success for Republicans, considering that their sole leverage was a two-seat margin in the state Senate.
Since 2001, Missouri’s population has been increasing more rapidly than that of most Midwestern states, but lags the national average. As a result, the state seems likely to lose a House seat in the reapportionment that will follow the 2010 census. Democratic Gov. Nixon will be in office during the redistricting cycle, but Democrats will have to pick up many seats in the state House and Senate in the 2010 elections to control the process. Demographically, the St. Louis area is even more at risk of losing a seat than it was in 2001. Population has been stagnant in St. Louis City and declining in St. Louis County, which together would be entitled to not quite two whole seats in an eight-district plan. Another district could be created from exurban counties around St. Louis. The district that is probably most vulnerable to elimination is the 9th, both because its central geographical position makes it easy to divide up among its neighbors and because its representative, Republican Blaine Luetkemeyer, elected by a narrow margin in 2008, has little seniority and is in the minority party in the House.