Not until Obama is gone, certainly. Republicans like to refer back to a 2010 ballot initiative, nonbinding, that put Missouri on record against a health care mandate. Seventy-one percent of voters went against the administration—and, to be fair, against the idea that had been drafted originally by the Heritage Foundation. Roe’s recent polling suggests that Obamacare opposition is down, but only to the mid-50 percents, with only 30 percent of Missouri strongly behind the law.
But Missouri had another nonbinding vote, in 2012. In February, the state held a “beauty contest” primary, and Rick Santorum won 55 percent of the vote—every single county. Republicans in the state that once chased out Joseph Smith wanted the Catholic candidate who called Mitt Romney “the worst Republican to run against Obama on health care.”
In Springfield, I meet up with James Owen, an attorney and former film critic running for one of the city’s legislative seats. The rendezvous happens at Leong’s Asian Diner, a local institution run by a Chinese immigrant who stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day and then returned to Missouri to invent cashew fried chicken. (Missouri’s racial diversity comes in drips, not in map-changing population surges.) “I was in a courtroom right after the 2008 election,” says Owen, “and a defendant started joking that ‘they’re gonna start growin’ watermelons in the Rose Garden.’ The judge was like: ‘Uh, excuse me?’”
Owen, like every Democrat I meet, is wistful about the “swing state” days. But he’s not sure about Mitt Romney’s swinging abilities. “During the primary I was telling people: If Santorum pulls this out somehow, I don’t think I can run,” he says. “He would have hyped up the voters down here the way Sarah Palin did.”
Mitt Romney isn’t somebody who hypes up conservative Missouri. He’s somebody it can tolerate. The most common phrase I heard when asking Republicans about Romney here was “he wasn’t my first choice, but ...” George W. Bush and John McCain fit the Republican profile. Romney never will. Democrats, Owen and others, hear it all the time: There are conservatives who go to church, hear that Mormonism is a cult, and struggle to square that with the name on their ballot. “It hurts them quietly,” says Temple.
“It comes up in coffee shops,” says Justus. “I heard two people talking about it just the other day. ‘What are you gonna do? You gonna vote for the Muslim, or you gonna vote for the Mormon?’ And this guy, who belonged to one of these megachurches, said that the issue had come up in his prayer meeting, and they’d decided not to vote.”
This may be one of the states where that attitude costs Mitt Romney some votes. But it won’t be enough to let the Democrats win Missouri.