Commentary: Missouri's Place in the National Spotlight

Sep 23, 2016

Last Thursday morning I opened my New York Times and choked on my coffee.  Once again Missouri was in the national news and not in a good way.  The lead editorial was a scathing critique of the Missouri legislature’s override of Governor Nixon’s veto of the change to the conceal-carry law.

Missouri has a bad enough reputation for lawlessness and weirdness.  We dominated the headlines in 2014 with the Ferguson nightmare.  In 2015 we got a moment of positive coverage when the Royals won the World Series and 800,000 people showed up for the parade.  But just a week later the controversy that had been festering at MU blew up and the national headlines were about hunger strikes and football team boycotts and presidential resignations.

And now this.  Guns, guns, and more guns.  And it’s not just the legislature.  Eric Greitens showing us he can shoot an automatic weapon.  Jason Kander showing us he can field-strip an automatic weapon -- in the dark.  Chris Koster being the first Democratic candidate for governor to get a National Rifle Association endorsement.  Roy Blunt boasting his NRA creds.  Why, it’s enough to make your trigger finger itch.  Or to ask the New York Times to be sure that the next time they write about us to have the headline read: “Missouri in the Crosshairs.”

Perhaps all of this would be different if we were still a bellwether state.  If we were still the state that had voted for the winning presidential candidate more than any of the others, a distinction we held until 2008, maybe we would soberly accept our responsibility and behave ourselves politically.  After all, the nation turned its lonely eyes to Missouri, not Joe DiMaggio, for guidance on how to vote for 100 years.

From 1904 through 2004, with the exception of 1956, Missouri voted for the winner.  And in 1956, Dwight Eisenhower lost by less than 4000 votes, just as in 2008, Barack Obama lost by less than 4000 votes.  So close. 

Currently polls show Trump ahead in Missouri by about as much as Clinton is ahead in New Jersey, a solidly blue state.  But Trump’s lead does not feel safe to me.  In fact I don’t know how helpful polls are right now.  They reflect a slice of time and there are still eight weeks to go, plenty of time for there to be more of the unprecedented craziness that we now expect in this campaign.

The upcoming presidential debate looms disproportionately large in its potential impact.  I’m counting on the debate to give us its full measure of Missouri-style weirdness.