COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Republican Mike Parson won the Missouri governor’s race on Tuesday, defeating Democratic state Auditor Nicole Galloway for the chance to serve a full term in the role he inherited when his predecessor resigned under a cloud of scandal two years ago.
Parson, a former state lawmaker and sheriff, campaigned on law-and-order issues heading into Tuesday’s election and fought off criticism from Galloway over his laissez faire approach to the coronavirus pandemic.
“People believe in common sense, and I think they want leaders that believe in common sense,” Parson told supporters gathered in Springfield after his Tuesday victory. “They don’t want government to tell them what they want to do every day. They want to live their lives in peace.”
Parson, who was elected lieutenant governor in 2016 and ascended to the top job two years later when Republican Gov. Eric Greitens resigned in the face of potential impeachment, has declined to require face coverings or order other restrictions and has often appeared in public without wearing a mask. Instead, he has stood by what he calls a balanced approach to the pandemic that is aimed at keeping the economy going while fighting the virus.
The governor and his wife, who are in their 60s, tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 23, but neither developed serious symptoms and he quickly resumed in-person campaigning.
Not surprisingly, the pandemic was front and center in the minds of many voters.
Taryn Perkins, a 33-year-old kindergarten teacher from the St. Louis suburb of Berkeley, said she voted for Parson largely because of his handling of the coronavirus crisis. By allowing businesses to remain open, Parson “has given people a lot of hope,” she said.
“That was kind of the deciding factor, because unfortunately I have a lot of friends who are struggling to pay bills right now,” Perkins said.
Galloway’s campaign focused largely on her criticism of Parson as having failed as a leader during the pandemic. She said she would require face masks if elected — a message that apparently didn’t resonate with enough voters to make her the state’s first female governor.
“To all the young women across Missouri who I met on the campaign trail, I want you to know there’s nothing you can’t do,” Galloway said during a Tuesday concession speech in Columbia. “Tonight I may have come up short, but over the past 15 months, I have met so many young women who I know will be future governors of Missouri.”
Law and order was also a central theme of the campaign. Violent crime is up dramatically in parts of Missouri this year, especially in the two largest cities and their suburbs. St. Louis and Kansas City could see record high numbers of homicides in 2020.
Parson and his allies warned that Galloway was soft on crime and cited support she received from racial justice activists who have called for defunding the police. Galloway said she did not support defunding police but favored providing more money for things such as education and mental health services that would address systemic problems.
Galloway, 38, also called for “common sense” gun laws, while Parson strongly opposes any limits on guns. Missouri gun laws are among the most lenient in the U.S.
Galloway was the Boone County treasurer in 2015 when state Auditor Tom Schweich died. Then-Gov. Jay Nixon appointed Galloway to fill the remainder of Schweich’s term. She defeated Republican challenger Sandra McDowell by about 6 percentage points in the 2018 election.
Meanwhile, political experts believe the 2nd Congressional District race between four-term Republican Rep. Ann Wagner and Democratic state Auditor Jill Schupp is a toss-up. The St. Louis-area district is among many suburban districts around the country that Democrats have targeted to flip.
Voters were also considering two ballot proposals, several other statewide and congressional races, and dozens of legislative contests.
Here’s a look at the top issues and candidates in Missouri’s election:
Missouri lawmakers passed a law allowing anyone to vote by mail this year because of the pandemic, as long as they got their ballots notarized. As of Sunday, about 828,000 Missouri voters had cast early in-person or mail-in ballots. That’s nearly three times as many as were counted in the last presidential election.
Elections officials were predicting a 75% voter turnout rate this election, which would be Missouri’s highest since 1992, when 78% of registered voters cast ballots in an election won by Democrat Bill Clinton.
The Republican-led Legislature put a redistricting measure on Tuesday’s ballot that would override changes voters made two years ago to the process of redrawing the state’s electoral boundaries. The 2018 “Clean Missouri” initiative required state House and Senate districts to be drawn to achieve “partisan fairness” and made Missouri the first state to adopt a specific formula known as the “efficiency gap” to measure fairness. The Legislature’s alternative would shift partisan fairness and competitiveness to the bottom of the priority list for redistricting. It would also abolish the newly created position of a nonpartisan demographer to draft districts and instead make a pair of bipartisan commissions responsible for that task, as they had been in the past.
Currently, the Missouri governor and treasurer are the only statewide elected officials limited to two four-year terms. If voters approve Constitutional Amendment 1, those limits would also apply to the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general and state auditor.
SECRETARY OF STATE
Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, 47, faces a challenge from Democrat Yinka Faleti, a 44-year-old Army veteran who previously worked as executive director of the St. Louis-area racial equity group Forward through Ferguson. Ashcroft supports requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. Faleti criticized Ashcroft’s handling of elections during the pandemic.
Voters for the first time will weigh in on whether they think Parson made the right choice in naming Republican Eric Schmitt, 45, to replace former Attorney General Josh Hawley, who left office two years into his term to join the U.S. Senate. Schmitt had been serving as the state treasurer and previously was elected to the state Senate. Rich Finneran, 36, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, is challenging him.
Parson picked Republican Scott Fitzpatrick to succeed Schmitt as treasurer after Schmitt left for the attorney general’s office. Fitzpatrick, 33, at the time was leading the Budget Committee in the state House. Democrat Vicki Lorenz Englund, a 46-year-old former state representative, campaigned to unseat him.
Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe is also running in his first race for a statewide office. Parson named him lieutenant governor after Parson, who previously held the position, took over as governor when Greitens resigned. Kehoe, 58, is up against Alissia Cannady, a 41-year-old Democrat who performed well but ultimately lost a race to be Kansas City’s mayor. In Missouri, the governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately.
Beyond the 2nd District, incumbents are heavily favored to win reelection in six of Missouri’s eight congressional district. The other exception is in the 1st District, which covers St. Louis and part of St. Louis County. Cori Bush, a nurse and racial justice activist, pulled an upset in the August Democratic primary by defeating longtime incumbent Rep. William Lacy Clay. Bush was elected Tuesday.