Harry Truman and prize winning mules

President Harry S. Truman at the Missouri State Fair with the State Champion mule team, c. 1955
Photo: University of Missouri

While the debate rages over the political color of states, red or blue, it seems that somehow rural Missourians must have gone color blind. Here in the Show Me State, our mascot is rightfully the Democratic Missouri mule that was ridden to victory by Harry Truman. But now, where presidential elections are concerned, we have become a red state represented by un-Truman-like Republican elephants.

Even in Congressional elections, those Show Me blue mules have their work cut out for them, to stampede over crimson pachyderms. Case in point would be Claire McCaskill, a red state Democrat.

As Bill Bishop pointed out with “The Red Neck Caucus Won With City Votes,” straight-talking Claire won in the city, but not in the country. Her opponent, Jim Talent, lost the city vote and failed to win by the landslide he needed in rural Missouri. When the ballots were counted, McCaskill had won.

comparing 2006 missouri vote

Dem. Senate candidate Claire McCaskill pulled slightly more votes out of rural precincts in 2006 than Carnahan did in 2002, but McCaskill won the election in urban Missouri.
Chart: Daily Yonder

So why won’t a majority of what ought to be country-dwelling Missouri Mule Skinners support a Democrat?

Maybe the answer lies in something as simple as breakfast.

We don’t have lunch and dinner around these parts. Our three food groups are breakfast, dinner, and supper, and out here in mule country we eat the same thing for breakfast, at the same time, every day. We may skip dinner altogether. Supper may be at 6 one evening and 10 the next, but breakfast never changes. For folks who start the day the same, voting the same comes naturally. (Incidentally, we generally vote right after breakfast.) The eggs are always over easy; the bacon always crisp, the buttered side of the toast is always up. We get comfortable with things here.

Forget the standard definitions of Conservative and Liberal. The lines here are a bit more blurred. In Missouri, Liberal may simply be a term used to describe the amount of jelly someone puts on her toast.

The last few years we’ve gotten used to Republicans. It’s only natural. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t listen to the candidates; some of us do. And we’ll consider, if only for a moment, whether blue solutions might sound better than red.

When Claire took questions in debates or interviews, her answers came unscripted. She may have said the same things, but each time she approached the subject in a genuine way. In contrast, Jim, when pushed to elaborate, always seemed to stay the course with the same old words in the same old order.

McCaskill was plain spoken and sometimes sassy. Talent was bookish and, for lack of a better word, cautious. It showed in the debates, and it showed in his campaign advertising, which mostly attacked his opponent rather than offering his own thoughts. It also showed when Talent went rural in new boots and a Carhartt coat. He may have had the clothes, but he didn’t have the look.

The single largest issue in the election, which still resonates today, was stem cell research using human eggs from fertility clinics. That subject translated for some into a religious conservative, right-to-life issue. Conservative Talent was against it; less Conservative McCaskill supported it. Stem cells got more play than taxes, guns, gays, or the war. In rural areas where anti-stem cell political signs outnumbered those of the senatorial candidates, stem cell research was a very emotional issue.

McCaskill Feed Store

Claire McCaskill in denim
Photo: Claire Online

But I don’t recall seeing McCaskill adjust her opinions, or her dress, to match her audience.
She had worked as a prosecuting attorney, a state legislator, state auditor, and a candidate for governor. I’m not saying she never puts on blue denim; the thing is, if she did, I would always have in mind a campaign picture of her standing in front of the feed store her parents owned. That is also who she is.

Here in farm country, being open with the public, willing to talk straight to the issues, Truman style, could be enough to sway seven or eight percent of the vote. In a tight race, 43% of one segment of the population is a whole lot better than 35%. When McCaskill won, Missouri started looking just a wee bit blue around the edges again.

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