Missouri’s Turbulent Gubernatorial Race

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

Among the decisions on the ballot this election cycle is the selection of a governor for Missouri. Four candidates are running for the position, Republican Mike Parson, Democrat Nicole Galloway, Libertarian Rik Combs and Jerome Bauer for the Green Party. 

As election day approaches polls show a tightening race for governor in Missouri between incumbent Governor Mike Parson and State Auditor Nicole Galloway. 

Both Galloway and Parson have received support from their respective national party leaders. President Trump endorsed and tweeted about his support for Gov. Parson Sept. 10 while former Vice President and Democratic nominee Joe Biden endorsed Galloway Sept. 14. 

While President Trump is still expected to win Missouri, polls have shown a closer race than his 18.5 point victory in 2016, casting doubt about the length of his coattails potentially impacting the governor’s race. 

While the Real Clear Politics average of polls shows a comfortable nearly twelve point lead for Parson, this lead has been steadily declining in recent polls. This decline has been reflected in the nonpartisan Cook Political Report’s decision to move the race from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican.” 

Galloway, the lone state-wide elected Democrat, touts her experience as State Auditor to focus on the nonpartisan issue of eliminating government waste. Eliminating government waste as well as improving Missouri’s medical care are central planks to the Galloway campaign. Beyond this focus, she has also been vocal in castigating Parson for his handling of the state’s coronavirus response. 

Parson, despite personally testing positive for the virus, has maintained support for his position that issues such as mask mandates should be a matter of local control and personal responsibility rather than being imposed by the state. 

Looming over this debate is the spread of the pandemic in the state. Covid-19 cases continue to rise in Missouri. The state reported over 5,066 new cases Oct. 9, more than doubling its previous single day total. 

Analysts have differed in their assessments of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the gubernatorial race. The Cook Political Report cited Parson’s handling of the pandemic as one of the reasons for tightening in the race. Other political observers have argued that the governor’s decision is reflective of voter sentiments in the Republican-leaning state. 

The debate over COVID-19 responses has also sparked a broader healthcare fight between the two candidates. Since Missouri voted to expand Medicaid in August, Galloway has asked for voters to trust her with implementation and contrasted her support for expansion with Parson.  Long a vocal opponent of Medicaid expansion, Parson has publicly wondered about where the state would find the money for such an initiative. 

Leaning into his background as a former sheriff – with rising homicide rates in both Kansas City and St. Louis – and mirroring President Trump, Parson has emphasized law and order in his campaign. The governor convened a special session of the state legislature over the summer focused on anti-crime legislation. The Parson campaign and allies have accused Galloway of supporting the Defund the Police movement and being soft on crime, assertions that Galloway denies. 
All four candidates met for a contentious forum in Columbia Oct. 9. With the backdrop of the pandemic and the budgetary challenges that will confront the next governor, the forum saw clashes on a wide range of economic, social and public health issues.

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