Canvassing the election: High voter turnout expected; several races could be close

Sunday, November 4, 2012
County employee Kyle Basler updates the software, loads voter registration files and checks the battery on an iPad that is to be used during Tuesday's election Thursday, November 1, in the Election Center at the Cape Girardeau County Jackson Administration Building in Jackson. (ADAM VOGLER)

A common consensus began forming among Southeast Missouri's county clerks weeks ago -- "we all better get ready," said Cape Girardeau's clerk, Kara Clark Summers, on Wednesday.

Presidential elections always mean a larger turnout. Sixty-five percent of registered voters in the state turned in ballots during the 2008 election. This year's statewide prediction of 72 percent, per the secretary of state's office, is one local election official's view as feasible.

The Cape Girardeau branch of the clerk's office took 80 absentee ballots just on Monday, according to staff, plus "a ton of applications," said Clark Summers.

"We've been extremely busy," she said.

A 74 percent turnout is predicted in Cape Girardeau County, where there are just more than 53,000 registered voters. Scott County Clerk Rita Milam predicted voter turnout there at 75 percent, and Perry County Clerk Randy Taylor believes around 8,700 of that county's 11,831 registered voters will cast ballots Tuesday, which would be almost 74 percent. Election officials don't expect that fewer local races than in the August primary will keep voters away.

Candidates have tagged this election as the most important one for Republicans in decades or the Democrats' chance to hold on and prove to voters they've made a difference.

Now, a look at Missouri races big and small.

U.S. Congressional and statewide races

Sen. Claire McCaskill has managed to hold off Rep. Todd Akin in many polls, but the latest show a tight race. With his candidacy defined in many ways by a remark about rape and women's bodies, Akin has slowly built back support he lost from fellow Republicans in August. The Missouri Republican Party last week spent $387,000 buying ads for the congressman.

During visits to Southeast Missouri, whether on their own or teaming together for campaign appearances, Republican candidates for the offices of governor, attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state have said with confidence that Missouri will experience a total GOP takeover after Tuesday. Most candidates have shied away from vocally supporting Akin since the comment fiasco, but in Cape Girardeau this week, Ed Martin -- a former chief of staff for Gov. Matt Blunt challenging incumbent Democrat Chris Koster for the attorney general's seat -- expressed his support for the whole ticket, including Akin by name, during a rally with state treasurer candidate Rep. Cole McNary and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson also weighed in with a prediction on how Akin and other Republicans would fare during a visit to Cape Girardeau Friday, where she told supporters she was feeling "very, very good" about the way she believed Missouri would vote in local to national races.

"I think Todd Akin is going to win," she said during a meeting of the Cape County Republican Women.

Emerson is also up for a 10th term -- this time challenged by Democrat Jack Rushin, a chiropractor from Poplar Bluff, Mo., and Libertarian Rick Vandeven, who also ran against her in 2010.

McCaskill's campaign hopes the return of a face familiar to Southeast Missouri voters will give her attempt at keeping her seat an extra boost this weekend.

Tommy Sowers, a Democrat who challenged Emerson for Congress in 2010, is traveling through the area over the next few days to stump for McCaskill and plans to knock on doors in several cities. Best remembered for his fundraising efforts that nearly matched Emerson's and his "boots on the ground" campaign slogan, Sowers lost the race when the incumbent congresswoman received 65 percent of the vote.

Friday he was in Cape Girardeau at the senator's local campaign office, where he spoke about her efforts to provide better benefits for veterans.

"I was able to go back to school and finish my graduate degree because of the changes Claire championed for the G.I. Bill," Sowers said Friday, "and she did things that benefited not only younger veterans, but older, too."

Sowers gave the example that McCaskill supported mileage reimbursement for veterans who needed to travel in order to receive health care services from veterans' medical facilities.

He was quick to say he is supporting her campaign in only a personal capacity, as he now serves as assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C., a post he was nominated for by the Obama administration. Sowers was introduced for confirmation by McCaskill.

The senator was campaigning in northwest Missouri on Friday.

Republican candidates for statewide office stuck together for appearances in the last days leading up to the election, but traveled far and wide -- gubernatorial candidate Dave Spence, last in Cape Girardeau on Wednesday, visited Jefferson City, Springfield, Joplin, Lee's Summit, Kirksville, St. Joseph and St. Louis Thursday and Friday accompanied by Martin, McNary and secretary of state candidate Shane Schoeller. As confident as Republicans are, incumbent Democrats on the ballot, including Gov. Jay Nixon, Koster and Treasurer Clint Zweifel, have enjoyed an advantage in fundraising this election season, as have Democratic candidates Susan Montee, who is challenging Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder of Cape Girardeau, and Schoeller's opponent for secretary of state, Jason Kander.

Whether Missouri will go as red as the GOP would like remains to be seen, but Emerson said Friday that at least within the Eighth District she believes Republicans will have the strongest showing in the 30-plus years that have passed since her late husband Bill Emerson was elected to Congress.

State House, Senate

Republicans dominated several state legislature races during the August primary, including in the 27th Senate district, which covers Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Madison, Perry and Scott counties. That race was decided when current state Rep. Wayne Wallingford of Cape Girardeau defeated state Rep. Ellen Brandom of Sikeston. Also secured by Republicans during the primary were House seats in the 146th and 147th districts which will be served by Donna Lichtenegger and Kathy Swan.

To the south there are challenges in the Missouri Senate and House -- money has poured into the race for the 25th Senate district, which pits Rep. Terry Swinger, a Democrat from Caruthersville, against Republican Doug Libla, a businessman from Poplar Bluff. Rob Mayer, a Republican who served as President Pro Tem in the Senate during the most recent session, is term-limited out and running for circuit judge in the 35th judicial district.

Republican Holly Rehder, a business owner and former lobbyist and staffer for Emerson, faces Bart Ziegenhorn, an insurance salesman and son of Scott County Commissioner Dennis Ziegenhorn, in the 148th. Steve Hodges, a Democrat who currently serves the 161st district, is vying for the 149th House seat against Neal E. Boyd, a well-known opera singer who has been involved with the party for many years.

One race for the state House is based completely in Advance, Mo. Ryan William Holder, a Democrat and field representative for the Laborers International Unit Local 1104, and Republican Dennis Fowler, retired superintendent of the Stoddard County Juvenile Detention Center and a longtime law enforcement officer, share the same locale but not political views.

"People in Advance have pretty much made up their minds about who they are going to vote for," said Fowler, while out knocking on doors and talking with business owners in Chaffee, Mo., last week. "It's these others we have to get figured out."

The 151st House district covers Stoddard County and a small section of Scott County, including part of Chaffee.

Fowler said he believes voters receive his message well as he goes door-to-door because they agree there needs to be a limited role of government, which he staunchly supports, especially when it comes to health care and schools.

Holder has said if elected he would fight politicians in Jefferson City who want to make the state right-to-work and supports any measures that would need to be taken in order to find a solution for fully funding the state's education system.

Cape Girardeau County

All other county-level races except Public Administrator were decided in the August primary when no Democrats filed to run. Republican Lisa Reitzel, a registered nurse, and Democrat Mary Cotner, a retired physical therapist, are seeking the $72,000 per year salaried public administrator position with duties that include serving as a guardian or conservator for about 150 county residents who suffer from physical or mental conditions severe enough that they lack the capacity to meet their own basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter or safety. Cotner was the lone Democrat to file for the primary; Reitzel defeated 12 other Republicans to win the nomination.

Local ballot issues

Voters in Jackson will decide on instituting a quarter-cent sales tax to fund operation of a donated community center/tornado safe room and money to run and improve parks. The Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce and community leaders have announced support for the initiative.

In the Gordonville Fire Protection District voters will be asked if they want to increase the number of members of the board of directors from three members to five. Supporters say increasing the number will provide more opinions and perspectives and stop infighting between board members and fire district volunteers, which has plagued the department recently.

Voters in Marble Hill are being asked to redirect a half-cent sales tax passed in August 2010 from capital improvements to general revenue. City officials say the move is needed to better balance the books. In the August primary this year voters turned down the proposal by a razor-thin margin.

Managing editor Matt Sanders contributed to this report.


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