Where McCain Won Missouri
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.