Election forecast - tight races, cool weather, strong turnout

Tuesday, November 2, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The forecast for Election Day: strong voter turnout expected, with chances of lines at some polling places, periods of impatience and prospects for victory too close to call in some races.

Election Day 2004 is upon us, at last.

Voter participation appears to be strong, based on early absentee ballots cast around the state. And the secretary of state's office is forecasting that 63 percent of Missouri's 4.2 million registered voters will cast ballots by the time polls close at 7 p.m.

Helping the turnout: Close races at the top of the ticket between Republican President George W. Bush and Democratic Sen. John Kerry and between Missouri's gubernatorial hopefuls -- Republican Secretary of State Matt Blunt and Democratic State Auditor Claire McCaskill.

Potentially hindering voter turnout: Cool, cloudy, wet and windy weather forecast across much of the state.

"Bad weather does usually mean lower turnout, but in this election I'm just not sure if it's going to matter either way," said Terri Durdaller, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office, which receives the vote counts in state and federal races from local election authorities.

The Democratic and Republican parties are undertaking major efforts to get people to the polls -- including reminder phone calls, even taxi rides -- while retaining hundreds of poll watchers to protect their interests and employing numerous attorneys to fight out the election in court, if necessary.

Missouri election law allows a candidate to request a recount whenever a race is decided by less than 1 percentage point. It also allows lawsuits alleging voting irregularities -- no matter the vote margin -- which could trigger a recount or, in the extreme, a new court-ordered election.

Still fresh in many voters' minds is the quagmire of the 2000 presidential election, when balloting troubles and a narrow vote margin in Florida delayed the outcome of the presidential race for more than a month.

Missouri has long been a political bellwether, voting for the winning presidential candidate every time except once (1956) during the past century. But presidential coattails don't always carry in the Show-Me State.

In 2000, Bush defeated Democrat Al Gore in Missouri by less than 78,000 votes, a close but comfortable 3.3 percentage points. In the same election, Democrat Bob Holden defeated Republican Jim Talent in the gubernatorial race by barely 21,000 votes, a cushion of less than 1 percentage point.

McCaskill defeated Holden this August in the Democratic primary.

Both McCaskill and Blunt began pre-election swings Monday in St. Joseph -- she stopped at a breakfast spot, then a high school; he rallied with other Republican candidates at the local GOP headquarters.

Overcast skies forced McCaskill to abandon a planned fly-around to northeast and southern Missouri. Instead, she opted to drive to local party headquarters in Kansas City, Columbia and St. Louis -- picking up a phone at each place to help with the get-out-the-vote effort.

In Kansas City, McCaskill predicted she would win the election by 2 percentage points, or perhaps 3.

Blunt's campaign countered that it could win by same margin, and the Republican slate pressed ahead with its own airplane excursion, with planned stops in Kirksville, Columbia and Jefferson City.

"If you want to see real change in our state capital ... then I need your vote and I need your support," Blunt said in St. Joseph.

McCaskill, citing her defeat of Holden as part of her independent credentials, countered: "I do represent real change. ... (and) I want people to focus on the reality of my record and my experience."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: