Republican Jim Talent widened his lead late Tuesday night over Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan, but the key to their election was in St. Louis and Kansas City, where most of the results had not yet come in.
With 70 percent of precincts reporting, Talent led Mrs. Carnahan 52 percent to 46 percent in a race that will help decide control of the U.S. Senate.
Talent, 46, rallied several hundred supporters to "stay hopeful."
"I am not going to try to prognosticate. I went into today cautiously optimistic and I remain so," Talent told a gathering at a hotel in suburban St. Louis.
Mrs. Carnahan, 68, was carrying a lucky buckeye that belonged to her late husband.
"I have a Harry Truman feeling about things," Mrs. Carnahan told reporters after voting at the American Legion hall in Rolla, her hometown. "I think it's going to be the Missouri surprise."
Talent easily took Cape Girardeau County with 69 percent of the vote. Some who voted for him attributed their decision to his experience.
"I thought the guy was qualified, and I didn't like the grandmother antics with Carnahan," said Cape Girardeau County voter Ken Griffor. "She tries to portray Talent about not caring about the seniors, but I think Talent has been straightforward about what he's trying to do. Carnahan is the typical politician speaking with both sides of her mouth."
But local Carnahan supporters cited a variety of reasons for voting for her.
"I think she has done a better job serving Southeast Missouri in the Senate than Talent did in Congress," said Jennifer Miles.
Mrs. Carnahan surged in heavily Democratic St. Louis, where she led Talent by more than 35,000 votes with 39 percent of city precincts reporting. She led by more than 4,000 votes in Kansas City.
But Talent held her off in more evenly split St. Louis County, leading 87,959 to 83,629 with 24 percent of precincts reporting.
In rural Missouri, Talent was carrying many rural counties he also won in the 2000 race for governor, which he lost narrowly to Democrat Bob Holden. But he was falling short of President Bush's winning percentages in several of those counties, a benchmark some GOP analysts set for Talent to offset Mrs. Carnahan's expected urban strength.
Mrs. Carnahan lost to Talent in her home area, Phelps County, 54 percent to 44.4 percent. Her late husband also lost Phelps County in 2000 to the Republican incumbent, former Sen. John Ashcroft, 51.9 percent to 46.8 percent.
There, Talent was the choice of Janis Curtis, 46, human resources manager for a Rolla home-health care company. His opposition to abortion rights was the deciding factor.
"I just didn't want her in office. I felt Jim Talent was the best person," Curtis said.
In the St. Louis suburb of University City, Laura Miller, 43, said she voted for Mrs. Carnahan.
"I don't like his ideas, his ties to business and the fact that he's Republican," Miller said.
Election officials were keeping an eye on St. Louis, where long lines and chaos in 2000 resulted in a court order keeping polls open -- an order that was swiftly overruled. However, only minor glitches were reported Tuesday: One site opened late, and ballots printed upside-down in at least two precincts were quickly replaced.