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Where McCain Won Missouri

Brad @ Burning Man
Even those of you who aren't local saw it in your newspapers today or on whatever news website you use: for the first time since 1956, Missouri's electoral votes didn't go to the winner in the general election. Right up to about midnight last night, I was still cautiously optimistic that Missouri might surprise the pollsters and go for Obama ... but I wouldn't have bet even one dollar on it. When I went to bed this morning, I thought I knew why, too. But I'm glad I didn't say so in writing. I'm glad I waited until this afternoon, and spent some more time on the Missouri Secretary of State's wonderful, amazingly state-of-the-art website for election results.

See, here's the thing that I thought it was going to be all about in Missouri. St. Louis and St. Louis County are to Missouri what Atlanta famously is to Dixie. Just as everybody else in the old Confederacy says that Atlanta isn't "really Southern," pretty much the entire rest of the state of Missouri agrees that St. Louis isn't "really" anything like the rest of the state. Aside from the economic differences brilliantly documented by political geographer Joel Garreau in his old best-seller The Nine Nations of North America, St. Louis has one huge important cultural difference with the southwestern corner of the state: a bizarre kind of apathy about what other people are doing that borders on tolerance. There really is no such thing as an extremist for any political cause here in St. Louis. The local descendants of the Ku Klux Klan, the Mystic Knights of the Veiled Prophet, are a charitable organization. The local chapter of ACT-UP changed the national group's motto to, "We're here, we're queer ... and we'd like to get to know you better." The local chapter of Earth First!'s biggest act of defiance was hanging banners over the highway.

I'd love to hear from local Obama organizers, and even more from Obama organizers who were parachuted into the state with Axelrod & Plouffe's brilliant book on political organizing to check one of my guesses: my bet is that they got roughly 1/3rd the turnout of other organizers anywhere else in the country using the same system, and got roughly half the volunteer hours out of the people they did get that volunteers gave in every other city that used the same system. What makes me say that? Because that's what every volunteer organization that comes to St. Louis reports. Even when a volunteer-run movement starts in St. Louis, like Neopagan Wicca did, the locals put in a third of the numbers and half the volunteer hours per person of anywhere else in the country. It's just how we are. Do you know about the biggest "battle" anywhere near St. Louis during the American Civil War? Pro-slavery and anti-slavery militias both stormed the US Army arsenal in St. Louis, on a rumor that the other side was about to seize it. The side that got there first waited for the other side to show up. Other than a few warning shots and some shoving, they then settled down on opposite sides of the nearest street and just waited patiently, maintaining watch for several days; it was enough for them to make sure that the other side wasn't going to grab all those weapons and do something with them. For just about as long as there's been a St. Louis, our natural defense against violent political extremists has been apathy, usually polite apathy with a hint of disdain, but occasionally shading into enforced apathy.

Southwestern Missouri is another story. Not only was it huge Ku Klux Klan territory back during the Klan's famous second wave era, the area down around Springfield, Missouri produced three of America's most famous racist white terrorist groups: the Baldknobbers, Quantrill's Raiders, and the Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord. Don't ask me why that is. I'm not from down there. I don't understand those people, and they have scared the living daylights out of me my whole adult life. When the state Highway Patrol and the state National Guard finally moved on that latter group, the CSA, back in the early 1980s, do you know what they found their plan was? They'd infiltrated the local army base, Fort Leonard Wood, and stolen an entire arsenal of military weaponry, which they were stockpiling against the (seemed to them) inevitable day when the US economy collapsed, when police would be too busy dealing with starvation and riots to stop them. They were then planning a military invasion of St. Louis specifically to murder every black citizen of St. Louis. And it took Highway Patrol and National Guardsmen from elsewhere in the state to encircle and search the camp and seize those weapons back, because no local cop or sheriff would touch them; they were mostly quietly in cahoots.

So I made a prediction, last night, to my friends: if Greene County, the county that Springfield is the county seat of, gets higher voter turnout than St. Louis County, I said, John McCain will carry Missouri. If not, I said, I think Barack Obama will. And technically, I was right. Greene County had 78.20% turnout, St. Louis County had 77.59% turnout, and John McCain carried Missouri by only a smidgen over 1 vote per precinct, state-wide. And if I'd written this before I went to bed last night, still three stiff drinks drunk in celebration of Obama's national victory, I probably would have left it there. Fortunately, I didn't: because my numbers wouldn't have added up. Because while yeah, McCain carried rural southern Missouri at roughly the same rate he carried every rural county in Dixie, by roughly a 2 to 1 margin everywhere by carrying virtually all of the rural white vote, the fact remains about Missouri that was also true about rural Dixie and the vast empty plains of the mountain west: nobody lives there any more. John McCain's vast numbers in those almost entirely empty counties hardly mattered, since most of those counties have fewer registered voters than your average suburban school district has students. Even Springfield, for all that it's big enough to scare St. Louisans with, only turned in 135,140 votes total. Sure Springfield gave McCain a 21,465 vote margin, wider than his statewide margin of 5,868. On the other hand, Springfield's entire voting population was only barely more than Obama's margin in St. Louis County, which he won by 330,157 to 219,787, a margin just in St. Louis County of 110,370. Even though they had slightly higher percentage turnout, our superior numbers swamped their tiny, but famously vicious, racist contingent.

So where in the heck did the McCain campaign come up with enough votes to overcome that? Take a look, via the link above, at Secretary Carnahan's map of turnout percentages by county. What county in Missouri had the highest turnout of all? St. Charles County, with an unprecedented 85.52%. It's not a huge county, only 188,497 votes cast, but it gave McCain a substantial margin, in numbers if not percentage: 102,538 to 84,163, or a a net of 18,375 votes. St. Charles County, for those of you who don't know the local area, is one of the original, and most virulent, white flight stories in the country. Until mandatory desegregation of St. Louis area schools, St. Charles County wasn't considered part of the St. Louis metropolitan area, by mutual consent. Not only is it far away, it's across a nearly impassible river, the Missouri, from the rest of the metro area. But after mandatory desegregation, St. Louisans lobbied the federal government hard for enough highway money to build the first of several giant highway bridges across the Missouri, specifically so they could live where they could send their kids to "good" schools, defined as "no more than one black kid per classroom," while still working jobs in the St. Louis area. So there's nothing terribly surprising about the fact that St. Charles County, like the more viciously racist but not actually more racist rural south including southwestern Missouri, voted against the black guy; I could tell you stories about black people who've tried to move to St. Charles County as recently as ten years ago.

But even then, remember what I said about St. Louisans and extremism? For all that it was the fastest growing county in the entire United States in the 1970s and 1980s, and still high up the list in the 1990s (with all growth halting as soon as forced integration of the neighborhoods got it to 5% black, making it unattractive to white flight families, who are now infiltrating rural Jefferson County in large enough numbers to give it a building boom), all the white flight panicked suburbanites of the St. Louis area who were actively motivated to do something as radical as move across the river from their jobs ... still didn't amount to a hill of beans, really, in raw numbers. St. Louis County is still roughly three times its size, population-wise. So even with the highest turnout in the state, St. Charles County would still not quite have been enough to put John McCain over the top, if it weren't for one thing I really am kicking myself for failing to anticipate: extraordinarily low turnout in the City of St. Louis. I'm sure the Obama campaigners in St. Louis, if they don't look at other people's numbers, are smugly satisfied by their 70.90% turnout of registered voters. For St. Louis City, that's a lot. Heck, for US general elections in general, compared to long-time averages, that's a lot, easily 5% to 10% above normal. But for a city that's roughly 50% African-American and so Democratic that the Republicans literally don't even bother running candidates any more, with a black Democrat running for the White House? Where was the excitement? Why weren't the City's polling places as massively overrun as most of the County's polling places were yesterday morning? Why were St. Louis registered voters so paralyzed and apathetic, even by St. Louis standards, that they couldn't put Missouri in the Obama column?

I don't know.

No, really, I don't know. I'd love to know. I'd love to hear stories from Obama organizers in the city of St. Louis, telling me what obstacles they ran into, telling me why it was so hard for them to do what we did out in the county, which still has a lot more pockets of residual racism, why so many tens of thousands of voters who could have easily swamped those nasty neo-Klansmen down in Springfield and those polite "we're not racists, we're just looking for 'good' schools" bigots out in St. Charles County decided to stay home instead, why so many of them declined to register even this year? If you figure it out, let me know, will you? Because as I read the numbers, that's where John McCain won Missouri: in St. Charles County, where tens of thousands of people who lie to themselves about their racism found themselves mysteriously driven to get to the polls to vote against the black guy, and in St. Louis City, where tens of thousands of people found themselves inexplicably disinclined to get to the polls to vote for him.

I just hope it's not for the reason that jumps out at me. My knee-jerk reaction is that Barack Obama's main product, the main thing he was selling, was hope. And, sad to say, for a very long time, for almost a century even before city St. Louisans turned their city government over to an entire generation of both black and white grifters and grafters, as far back as 140 years ago when the Trans-Continental Railroad bypassed St. Louis in favor of Chicago, St. Louis City has been where hope goes to die.

Comments

( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
aberranteyes
Nov. 7th, 2008 03:06 pm (UTC)
I live in central PA, which (I discovered shortly after moving here in the fall of 2002) is the big stretch of {Kentucky,Alabama} between the metropoles of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
athenemiranda
Nov. 5th, 2008 09:04 pm (UTC)
Missouri still hasn't been called, technically, so if you're very fortunate there could be a pleasant surprise for you in the provisional & postal ballots. But still...your last paragraph also made me think of Louisiana, where even with a near-40% black population, the state was never regarded as even a long-shot possibility for Obama.

One thing that felt clear to me last night is that this is merely the end of the beginning of the Obama volunteer machine; I think he has more work for us to do yet, all over America, and so...you never know what might happen over the next four years, really.
bradhicks
Nov. 5th, 2008 09:12 pm (UTC)
People in Louisiana lived through hurricanes under Clinton, and saw what a Democrat-run FEMA looked like. Then they lived through hurricanes under Bush, and saw what a Republican-run FEMA looked like. And yet they voted for another Republican to run FEMA. If you know of a blog post or newspaper essay anywhere on the web that can explain this to me, please, link to it, because I can not imagine what they are thinking.

The subject of what the next 8 years mean, what that amazing piece of election apparatus will do next, is in fact almost certainly the topic of my next journal entry. Hint: look at the history of the "Reform Democrats."
asim
Nov. 5th, 2008 09:46 pm (UTC)
I've a good friend who lives in MS, and who's house was almost hit by Katrina (she got a little house damage). If she (fairly liberal) is any indication, many of the people down there simply don't blame FEMA. They think it's all self-bootstrapping, and that the Black people who complained are just a bunch of whiners.

I wish I was stretching a point. But that's pretty much what she gave me as a reason, when I discussed this with her a couple of years ago. And I've heard similar from other people in the region. Add to that a mass exodus of AAs from the region, and you got yesterday's result.
skithee
Nov. 5th, 2008 10:07 pm (UTC)
I grew up in Starkville, MS, where MSU is at. I was watching the results roll in at Growlers with some friends and almost shit a brick when the first Mississippi results showed something like 71% for McCain. I realize it's always going to be a conservative part of the country, but I couldn't wrap my head around that. Fortunately, within 10 minutes more results rolled in and the 52% to 41% seems much more reasonable.

Still, I'm having a hard time imagining what area reported first to show those results.
thphilster
Nov. 5th, 2008 09:28 pm (UTC)
You missed a point about the pop here in Springfield. The Republicans were betting on a total blowout in this city around the 66/33% against Obama. What they got instead was more of a 41/59% vote with an energized conservative base. What happened is that the large silent indy voter bloc that makes up more of the area got split in a way conservative pundits couldn't figure out. You forget we had a rally for Obama in the 30-40k range yet Palin (who sadly was the real star of the McCain ticket) could only eke out 15 with free help from talk radio and Bass Pro (they donated the campaign area). This is supposed to be pure red area and it failed to live up to that, blame the moderates.

Yer right, why Obama lost Missouri (by less than 3k votes) was St. Louis' fault. We actually rallied more for Obama when it was percieved we wouldn't.

Oh, uhm in b4hurhurredecks
thesigother
Nov. 6th, 2008 04:59 am (UTC)
I think I have an idea how that may have happened. Springfield has a college there, and allows for the college students to live off campus, where they would have an opportunity to vote locally. Being college students they would not be susceptible to the regular polling their parents at home would be (since some of them may have given up the land line concept completely and gone with cell phones), and as such may have been discounted.

Of course it may be that the population there are "pure red" but are fed up with their party for one reason or another, or fed up with McCain for one reason or another, or did not like the idea of Palin standing in for McCain if his body decided it had had enough and kicked its mortal coil.

But this is all just ideas, you live there, I am just observing.
circe_pleading
Nov. 5th, 2008 10:33 pm (UTC)
I can't even begin to generate answers to your thoughtful questions. However, your closing statement, about St. Louis being a city where hope comes to die was quite compelling.

I was raised in a painfully white, suburban, Protestant Midwest, all over from Minnesota and Michigan to down in Indiana. I recently chose to move to St. Louis in part because visiting revealed an amazing city.

Residents routinely refer to its low-city-self-esteem but I fail to comprehend. I see rehabbers turning formerly slum and crime ridden neighborhoods into communities. I see local businesses thriving on almost every street corner. I get to talk to my neighbors over the fence (something suburban Midwesterners just.don't.do in my experience).

I see a lot of hope at work here; certainly plenty of challenges, problems, and obstacles, but still a lot of people working together to build a better St. Louis city.
bakadragon
Nov. 6th, 2008 12:31 am (UTC)
Via a friend of mine that lives a few blocks north of Delmar, "But the republicans gave us $600 free money!"

*blinkblink*

And then we had a short talk about not taking politics at face value, cause whoa.

I know my apathy personally comes from the fact that I see and understand both sides of most issues, but I have a feeling most of St. Louis City was simply too undecided to vote maybe because they couldn't seem to get any actual facts...
l8ntmthrnr
Nov. 6th, 2008 12:40 am (UTC)
While I agree that the majority of the people that live out here in St. Charles county fit into the cubby hole that you are shoehorning them into, there are some that don't. I am white, but I have a bi-racial son (African American/Caucasian), I'm not a racist, nor am I lying to myself that I am not a racist. I don't think that McCain/Palin had so much support out here because the populace is racist (although you are pretty much right on that count), I think it has a lot more to do with the fact that the populace out here, for the most part, is militantly fundamentalist christian. I can't spit without hitting a ginormous powerpoint church, everyone has a damn fish on the back of their huge SUV right next to their "vote life" bumper sticker.

My husband and I did our part and voted for Obama, but we also knew that in terms of our county, we were fighting a losing battle. I've been telling people for months that we live in a red county, always has been a red county and no matter who me and my husband vote for it's going to stay a red county. We did have huge voter turn-out, and making a prediction based solely on yard signs, I knew this year was going to be no different.

edited for misplaced punctuation

Edited at 2008-11-06 12:41 am (UTC)
morgaath
Nov. 6th, 2008 01:42 am (UTC)
I was pleasantly surprised to SEE Obama signs in my of St. C.

And yes, if I had a dollar for every J-fish I see...

The nice part is that the kids in the high school are at least evenly split, and far more open minded then their parents. They didn't bat an eye when my son outed us as poly to his friends. Several had already suspected. They also are not offended by the several openly gay people at the school.

The times they are a changing.
skithee
Nov. 6th, 2008 02:02 am (UTC)
I think I was checking the NYTimes site for the Missouri results and was pleased to see that St. Chas, at least, wasn't PURE red. Checking the SOS site, it lookes like there was a spread of about 10%, which is a lot closer than most of the random rural counties I checked.
bradhicks
Nov. 6th, 2008 02:03 am (UTC)
It's not for nothing that the history of the Southern Baptist Church has also been a history of only-slightly-covert pro-Confederate revisionism, either. But yeah, you are in the part of the metro area that sent Todd "Ashcroft Lite" Akin to Washington.
thesigother
Nov. 6th, 2008 05:08 am (UTC)
Something that I heard about in the St. Louis are may not have been the norm in the Red Counties. Yes, I spent 2.5 hours voting this Tuesday. I have the phone logs to prove it. I went in at 7 am and did not get out until 9:30. And yes, it was a polite, apathetic time in line. No attitudes, no pushing/shoving, etc. EVERYONE was polite. There was not even a raised voice. And yes, they asked for additional ID, but I didn't say anything about it, and I probably should have.

But I also heard that in the rural counties, this was not the case. It was a tense, upset kind of atmosphere. You see, in the blue counties, people were voting to put someone into office, and I think the red counties were more or less voting to keep someone OUT.
thesigother
Nov. 6th, 2008 05:23 am (UTC)
Just looked back over the numbers
The Libertarian vote in Missouri represents 0.4% of the entire voting population. If only HALF of them decided to not throw their vote away by voting for a complete waste of time, and threw in with Obama, then it would have been a tie.

If half the Constitutionalists would have gone with Obama it would have been a win.

Now I see why people want to have a strictly two party system. If those other parties were not involved, and they voted in the same ratios as they seem to appear here, I think it may have been a more decisive race, but I haven't done the math required.
bradhicks
Nov. 6th, 2008 03:42 pm (UTC)
Re: Just looked back over the numbers
I'm guessing that means you don't know that the Constitutionalists are an explicitly fundamentalist Christian right-wing party? The third-party voters were wasting their time, really, just pointless protest votes, but they didn't cost Obama Missouri.
gavroche42
Nov. 6th, 2008 03:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Just looked back over the numbers
The 17,000 who voted for Nader may have. While some of them may have voted for McCain or stayed home otherwise, I suspect at least 25% of them would have voted for Obama if Nader wasn't running.
gavroche42
Nov. 6th, 2008 03:19 pm (UTC)
It looks like the numbers for St. Louis City have changed since when you looked. When I follow the link to the map it says St. Louis City had a 61% turnout, which is even more depressing.
bradhicks
Nov. 6th, 2008 03:40 pm (UTC)
I'm finding a lot of numbers on that map, now, that are lower. Greene is down to 70.97%, St. Louis County down to 69.62%. St. Charles is still the highest, but it's down from 85.52% to a much more plausible 77.20%. So it looks like the original formula was wrong? Won't know unless she puts out a press release about it.

And yeah, for this year, with this much at stake, and this much general excitement everywhere else? 61.40% turnout in the city of St. Louis is pathetic. Can it even possibly be right?
bradhicks
Nov. 6th, 2008 03:54 pm (UTC)
Holy crap, I trust the new numbers more, now. I was just comparing numbers of votes cast in the 2004 election to the 2008 election. The increase in turnout was tiny. Selected counties:
 20042008
St. Louis City144,638158,077
St. Louis County542,983554,893
St. Charles County163,488188,497
gavroche42
Nov. 6th, 2008 05:17 pm (UTC)
A 9.29% increase for St. Louis City,
a 2.19% increase for St. Louis County,
and a 15.3% increase for St. Charles.
gislebertus
Nov. 7th, 2008 04:22 am (UTC)
Whazza?
Not only was it huge Ku Klux Klan territory back during the Klan's famous second wave era, the area down around Springfield, Missouri produced three of America's most famous racist white terrorist groups: the Baldknobbers, Quantrill's Raiders. . .

Just in the spirit of a little thing known as factual accuracy: the Baldknobbers had nothing to do with post-war racism. It was composed of local Union veterans who took to the night as vigilantes to combat the relative lawlessness in the post-war southern tier counties such as Stone and Taney. These were guys who showed up at your door and beat the hell out of you if you were beating your wife, or doing something they didn't approve of. It didn't have anything to do with race: hell, there wasn't even a black population down there to speak of to terrorize.

Secondly: Quantrill's Raiders weren't from southwest Missouri. Springfield and southwestern Missouri was, in fact, some of the strongest Unionist areas of the state. Quantrill and his boys for the most part hailed from the Kansas City area (in fact his raid on Lawrence was a reprisal for the collapse of the prison in KC housing many of their wives and families), St. Joseph, and central Missouri along the river. While no doubt he picked up some recruits from down here, to say Quantrill and his boys were from these parts is just plain shoddy scholarship.

If you're going to pontificate about these things, do try to get your Missouri history correct. There's a entire world out there that starts past the St. Louis County line.
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