As someone who now lives and works “inside the beltway,” I never fully understood why the Missouri Senate race was so close. Currently, Claire McCaskill leads Todd Akin by a margin of roughly 5 points. All of my D.C. friends, professional colleagues, and other work contacts wrote Rep. Todd Akin off after the now infamous “legitimate rape” comments. I assumed this was the norm, but after returning to my hometown of Kansas City to volunteer for the McCaskill campaign, I now see why most Missouri voters were not as quick to dismiss him.
It seems that incumbent Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill is in the wrong place at the wrong time. "Change you can believe in" is now "vote the bums out!"Missouri Republicans believe in that battle cry as vehemently as the pre-graduation college student in 2008. In their eyes, Senator McCaskill stands for everything that is perceived to be broken in Washington, and having Rep. Todd Akin in the Senate would be a breath of fresh air. (Never mind that he's been in Washington longer than Senator McCaskill.)
In speaking with voters in Missouri, the number one issue with McCaskill is her allegiance to President Obama. Since Senator McCaskill supported the much-loathed Affordable Care Act, she is seen as being his surrogate in a state that has shifted radically to the right since 2006. This shift was largely driven by social issues, and socio-economic concerns have taken a back seat. (For more background, read Thomas Frank’s 2004 book, What’s the Matter with Kansas?)
While urban voters seem to weigh the economic and social views of their candidates, the suburban and rural electorate do not. For example, one voter I spoke to worked in Chevrolet's Fairfax, KS assembly plant (which is located across the Missouri River from Kansas City) and admitted that he would have lost his job had it not been for government intervention. But would he support Senator McCaskill for supporting the auto-bailout? No, because she also voted for Obamacare and supports abortions.
This encounter is not an isolated incident. Many other voters cited these same two positions as reasons not to support the incumbent candidate. In fact, the lack of local outcry over the “legitimate rape” comments is only further evidence. If not for national media attention over those remarks, I can't help but think they'd be forgotten on Election Day,dismissed as one man losing his train of thought.
In the end, Senator McCaskill's victory rests on high turnout in the more populated, urban counties. If, however, statewide turnout falls from 2008's high of 64%, again driven by the urban counties, Missourians could wake up to a new Senator on November 7th.