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Missouri is not a red state. It’s not a blue state.
It’s a white state.
That’s the arithmetic message of the 2012 elections. Five of the six statewide Democratic candidates won their races—three by landslide margins—on the same ballot on which President Barack Obama, their standard-bearer, was crushed by nearly 264,000 votes, or 9.6 percent.
If one glances at the divided national map, it would be natural to categorize Missouri as a “red state,” and a solid one at that. The president lost the state by more than he lost Georgia. And voters sent ridiculous majorities of Republicans—in every sense of the word—to the state legislature.
But that doesn’t account for the vast disparity between the performance of five of the Democrats who won statewide office and the man who was reelected by a landslide electoral margin. Yes, it can be argued that the reelection of Sen. Claire McCaskill—a longtime Obama ally—was aided by having run against an unhinged person. Write off her 15.5 percent victory margin as an outlier.
But that still leaves Gov. Jay Nixon winning reelection by 12.1 percent and Attorney General Chris Koster winning by 15.1 percent. And the number of ballots cast for McCaskill, Nixon, and Koster was almost identical: In an election in which more than 2.7 million Missourians voted, the three were separated by less than 3,000 votes (or one-tenth of 1 percent). That’s remarkable.
Obama, on the other hand, received roughly 270,000 fewer votes that the candidates below him on his own ticket. Literally 10 percent of the electorate supported three major statewide candidates while opposing their standard-bearer, a man with whom they were constantly linked, and with whom they expressed no serious disagreement.
How do you explain those incongruous outcomes? I have a theory:
It’s racial. Missouri doesn’t do the diversity thing in statewide elections.
Before you send in the Reverse-Political-Correctness Police, here are the customary disclaimers: No, everyone who voted against Obama is not a racist, and yes, the people who voted against the president (while supporting the rest of his ticket) surely had many reasons that weren’t race-related.
I’m not calling anybody anything.
But here’s the bottom line: In its nearly two-century history, Missouri has never elected a person of color to any statewide office. Not one. In fact, only one African-American has even made it onto the ballot. That was Rep. Alan Wheat, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in 1994. He lost to John Ashcroft by 25 points.
Part of this is demographic. U.S. Census Bureau population estimates for 2011 find that Missouri has a non-Hispanic white population of 80.8 percent, as compared to a national average of just 63.4 percent. That’s a whopping difference.
But it really doesn’t explain the historic ballot results in this week’s election. More than a quarter of a million voters in this state wouldn’t elect a black man at the same moment they were giving landslide wins to white candidates in his own party.
I’m not seeing red about that. I’m seeing white.
Commentary by Ray Hartmann