When it comes to predicting the national outcome, no state has a record to match Missouri's. Voters in the Show Me State have only missed the national mood one time in over a century. There are Democratic areas at the east and west of the state, with a more rural Republican dominated area in the center. There's an area of unmatched evangelical fervor (that has produced such winners as John Ashcroft and Roy Blunt), and urban centers where the minority vote hits 50%. The reason Missouri so often votes like the nation, is that Missouri looks a lot like the nation in miniature.
Currently, if the polls can be trusted, Missouri's string of matching the national outcome may come to an end this year -- though there are one hell of a lot of people working right now to make sure Missouri retains that bellwether status by going with Barack Obama. In any case, the vote here can be expected to be very, very close.
Unlike many of the other battleground states, Missouri's Republican-dominated state house has seen to it that the state has no early voting, a constant furor around ID laws, and a lot of righteous fist shaking over new voter registration. If you were panning through local newscasts last night, you could have watched either of two stations devote a solid chunk of their broadcast to the terrible problem of how dead people weren't removed from the polls quickly enough -- though no one showed a single instance of these lingering names translating into an actual vote.
On election night, be prepared for Missouri to be close. Be prepared for lots of podium thumping from the Republicans, no matter the outcome. And be prepared for what's going to happen in St. Louis.
St. Louis has a structure that's nearly unique. More so than any city outside of Washington, D. C., the city's control is not in its own hands. Everything from the city boundary, to the makeup of many boards and departments is at least partially in the hands of the state. So while the metro area that's commonly called St. Louis has a population that approaches three million, the actual city has only about 1/8th of that. The rest is divided into more than 80 villages, townships, towns, cities, districts, and unincorporated areas. And that's just in St. Louis County.
The social, political, and racial makeup of the various entities in the county cover an amazing amount of variety in a small area and include some of the richest and poorest neighborhoods in the state, but in general the county is more affluent, and a good deal whiter, than the city at it's center.
No city in America has suffered from as much classic "white flight" to suburbia as St. Louis. In 1950, the city had a population of over 850,000. By 2000, the population was below 350,000. When a city loses more than half its population, it goes without saying that there are streets, blocks, and whole neighborhoods that fall into decay. Keeping downtown St. Louis functioning as the center of the area, and preserving working neighborhoods has often taken heroic efforts from individuals and groups. That effort is starting to pay off as in the last five years the population has climbed slightly and more younger people have moved into the city, but there's still a long way to go.
The City of St. Louis has a population that's roughly 50% African-American. Like African-American populations elsewhere, they tend to vote heavily Democratic. For what it's worth, the rest of the city also votes heavily Democratic. You can bet your life that come Tuesday, voters are going to line up at every polling place in town. And that's the problem.
Republicans know very well that the turnout in St. Louis (and Kansas City) can swing the outcome of every election in Missouri, so they have a well practiced and time-honored game plan.
First, there won't be enough machines. Neighboring counties will have plenty, St. Louis County will be tight, St. Louis City will be woefully short. It's that way every cycle, it'll be that way this time.
Second, Republican poll workers and monitors will be late to arrive. This tactical heel-dragging will help slow the opening of some polling stations, and ensure that those trying to vote before work face frustrations and delays.
Third, Republicans will challenge voters. Not voters of whom they're suspicious, mind you, lots of voters. Particularly older voters who they think seem confused, or voters who already seem steamed about the delays. The goal here is to slow the process as much as possible, so that when voters are coming in to vote after work, the lines are stupendous. This process will continue right up until 7PM, when the polls close.
At that point, there will be thousands of people still in line in the city and county. The local Democratic Party will rush to a judge before the polls close, and get an injunction keeping some polling stations open longer to accommodate the overflow crowds. They'll get the injunction.
The Republicans will be roughly 3.2 seconds behind them, relaying this injunction to an appellate judge. This judge, whether appointed by the Bush administration or the Blunt administration in Missouri, will happily order the polls closed.
Polling places will then be left to interpret these rulings amid a sea of confusion. Close the doors immediately? Let everyone already in line vote but block any more people getting in line? Keep the polls going until they're forcibly shut down? All three options will be exercised, often within a few blocks of each other.
At the end of the night, there will be thousands of St. Louisans who didn't get to vote, Republicans will scream that Democrats were trying to cheat "again," and Kit Bond will deliver a red-faced speech that's slightly less coherent than Sarah Palin on a bender. All of this is as predictable as sunrise.
So when you see the first results come in from Missouri, and they lean toward McCain, don't give up hope. The Republicans may play the same defense they've played forever in the cities, but this year's offensive line is coming at them with an energy they're never going to expect.