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Dec 2004 / church and state :: email this story to a friend

Red and Blue Make...Policy Fights?
By Larry Handlin

Lost in strong statewide showings for Republicans in Missouri is that both the City and County of Saint Louis became more blue. Despite strong get out the vote (GOTV) efforts by Republicans in both jurisdictions, Democrats increased their margins — yet Republicans did better statewide. While it is too early to know exactly what it means for the region, it certainly demonstrates a troubling disconnect between the core of the Saint Louis region and the rest of Missouri outside of Columbia and Kansas City.

The three most prominent reasons for the increases would appear to be incredibly strong GOTV efforts by Democrats, changing demographics and the "Nader Factor" being a non-factor.

In the City in 2000, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman garnered an amazing 77.4% of the vote with a raw vote total of 96,557 votes compared to 19.9% (24,799 votes) of the vote to Bush-Cheney and 2.1% of the vote for Nader (2,592 votes).

In 2004, Kerry-Edwards garnered 80.3% (116,133 votes) to Bush-Cheney's 19.2% of the vote (27,793 votes) and write-ins for Nader of 17 votes.

While Nader not being on the ballot certainly hurt his showing, given results from around the country, there wasn't much interest in a second left-of-center candidate this year.

The Red Sea Even if one assumes that Nader's voters went to Kerry this time, there is still an increase of 17,000 votes for the Democratic ticket that didn't vote last time. The total increase was nearly one-fourth of the total needed to bridge the gap between Bush and Gore in 2000, so newly installed City Dem Chair Bryan Wahby had good reason to be confident during the day that Kerry would win the election.

The numbers in the County also gave reasons for optimism early in the day on November 2nd. The final results had Kerry winning with a margin of almost 50,000 votes and 54.4% (295,284 total votes) compared to Bush's 45.1% of the votes (244,969 total votes) and Ralph Nader's 176. The total vote margin nearly doubled over 2000 when Gore won the county by about 26,000 votes (51.5% to 46.1%). Nader fell from 8,474 (1.7%) to 176 votes (0%).

Taken together then, the City of Saint Louis and Saint Louis County gave a net increase of nearly 45,000 votes to the Democratic candidate for president — half of the difference between the two party candidates in 2000, but the overall margin of votes statewide increased to the Bush-Cheney side. In 2000 Bush garnered 50.4% of the votes and 1,189,924 total votes to Gore-Lieberman's 47.1% and 1,111,138 votes. Yet this year, Bush-Cheney received 1,455,713 votes (53.3%) to Kerry-Edwards total votes of 1,259,171 (46.1%).

Adding to the story is the outcome of Claire McCaskill's campaign that received just about 1,000 more votes in Saint Louis County than did Kerry, but statewide ran ahead of him by about 42,000 votes. In the City, McCaskill ran behind Kerry by 4,000 votes, though Blunt only did 2,000 votes better than the top of the ticket. With a bulge in Libertarian votes, it appears many protest votes were made against Claire.

But what does all of this mean to the region as it worries about historic tax credits, education funding and transportation infrastructure? With a sharper divide between the urbanized areas and rural and exurban communities, the next few years are going to be rocky.

Over the last 50 years, Democratic control seldom resulted in the Missouri Legislature being a rubber stamp for the heavily Democratic city and in fact, the Lege was often quite hostile to the City, but intra-party cooperation was always needed. City and County Democrats could extract something from the coalition, but now with concentrated Republican control and fewer votes within the City and the County for which Republicans can even compete, the divergence between two jurisdictions and the majority of the state could not be larger.

Lieutenant Governor-elect Peter Kinder suggested that the region needs to rethink its political allegiance, but more to the point, how will needs in the region be met? One way is some sort of compromise with the state government, but another way is for the region to begin to take on responsibilities of the state government through special taxing districts that would keep the money local.

More troubling is that while investment issues in education and transportation might be able to be bridged by spreading pork barrel spending around, the increase in Republican votes appears to have come almost entirely from religiously conservative voters. Comparing the closest questions from 2000 to 2004, the increase in white, socially conservative, religious voters seems to have increased by 235,000 voters for Bush compared to a total increase of 265,000 voters for Bush — meaning that without the significant outreach to such voters, John Kerry would have won Missouri along with Claire McCaskill and Bekki Cook. Such voters are not liable to be interested in such issues as much as on social issues and if they stay in the electoral arena (a question for which none of us have an answer), there is little to find to compromise on and in fact, much to see conflict on, given the region's reliance on bio-science and socially conservative voters' dislike of embryonic stem cell research.

Such a system would be against out-state interests in the long term. Rural areas have few services or infrastructure that benefit from an economy of scale. Fewer people means fewer resources and so they usually receive more money than they give to the state government. If Saint Louis and Kansas City start to fund a broad range of services — as the City of Saint Louis is already doing — when the state must increase taxes, the rest of the state might find the Saint Louis region willing to let things be. And if that happens, the relations between the regions will only become worse.

Larry Handlin crunches plenty o'numbers like this all the time over at

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