Missouri's 2012 Primary Election Would Be Very Telling If It Weren't Officially Meaningless

Categories: Election 2012
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A couple of weeks ago, Huffington Post blogger Will Bower wrote, "This February 7th, 2012, I'll be paying closer attention to Missouri's primary results and asking myself 'What if Missourians had been able to go first this time 'round?'"

Bower, an outspoken crusader for election reform, proposed in 2008 a primary election calendar kicked off by the four states that had the closest margin of victory in the previous general election. Along this standard, Missouri, which John McCain won by 0.1 percent, would be leading off the current cycle. The point, he wrote, "is to help the political parties determine which candidates can best appeal to the citizens of those states that have found themselves most recently on the Electoral Divide."

Certainly there are flaws within this plan, just as there are flaws within the present framework. But there is no doubt that Missouri sits most prominently on the Electoral Divide. In addition to being the most closely fought state in the 2008 general election, Missouri held that year's tightest Republican Primary and second tightest Democratic Primary. The winner of the state's 2008 GOP contest, John McCain, beat out second place finisher Mike Huckabee by 1 percent, and third place finisher Mitt Romney by 4 percent. And Barack Obama topped Hilary Clinton by a little over 1 percent.

By these measures, it is reasonable to suggest that Missouri is the most balanced and competitive presidential election battleground in the nation.

The irony of all this, of course, is that Missouri's February 7 primary might not count because Republican National Committee rules state that only Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada can hold their contests before March 6. (Those in violation risk losing half their delegates for the nominating convention.)

Since a bill to move back this primary date stalled during the state legislature's special session this past fall, Missouri Republicans will instead select their candidate via caucus on March 17. So, obviously, a primary that doesn't count will have a low voter turnout. And a caucus, which mainly draws the more devoted voters who are willing to spend a few hours listening to speeches, tends to not reflect as wide of a voting swath as a primary does. Which means Missouri's value as a keystone state will probably not carry over into this election.

Since Missouri is not one of the much-hyped first five states, there hasn't been much polling done here in the meantime. So extrapolating any conclusions is still a bit of a stretch. But the two most recent polls hint that Missouri maintains its ideological balance. A September poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling, occurred at the peak Rick Perry's surge, and put him at 31 percent to Romney's 15 percent, which was to the right of the national polls at the time. An August poll, by Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research, showed Romney up three points on Perry, 25 percent to 22, which was to the left of the national polls at the time. Of course, two antiquated polls is hardly enough to illustrate much about how Missourians will vote in the coming primary and/or caucus.

At this point, its tough to say where those conservative/Tea Party Perry votes might go. While Rick Santorum and Ron Paul performed well in the Iowa caucus, much of their respective success is a testament to their especially strong organization and effort in that state over the last several months. The most recent national poll, conducted by Gallup, shows Gingrich neck-to-neck with Romney and Ron Paul at a distant third. Of course, given the volatility of this race so far plus the fact that there are five primaries/causes to be won before Missouri's turn, it's likely that the composition of the election looks totally different on February 7. And then totally different again on March 17.

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