Is Missouri now up for grabs in the race for the White House?
Two public opinion polls released Tuesday suggested a tantalizing answer — yes. That’s a sharp turnaround from just a few months ago, when all sides agreed the state was safely in the column of Republican nominee Donald Trump.
But a Monmouth University poll released Tuesday showed Trump leading Democrat Hillary Clinton in Missouri by a razor-thin one point margin, 44 percent to 43 percent. A Survey USA poll released Tuesday showed an identical result.
Such a close race would typically prompt both candidates to start competing for the state’s 10 electoral votes.
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Yet analysts and operatives urged caution. Trump’s small margin in Missouri may simply reflect a campaign struggling for support everywhere, they said. That means it’s unlikely Trump — or Clinton — will begin pouring significant money and people into what is still considered a reliably red state.
Missouri hasn’t delivered a majority for a Democratic presidential nominee since 1996.
“If the Trump campaign has to divert resources to Missouri it will be a signal that he is in real trouble nationally,” said Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Missouri.
The Monmouth University Poll has a margin of error of 4.9 percent. The Survey USA poll was conducted for the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, a group supporting Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill that expands gun rights. The poll’s margin of error is 3.3 percent.
Missouri remains more important for Trump than Clinton. While the Democrat has several plausible paths to a victory in the Electoral College, Trump has to win safe states like Missouri, plus pick up other blue states, if he hopes to win the White House.
In its news release, Monmouth says its survey shows Trump doing better in Missouri with white women than with white men, the opposite of the dynamic in other states. Clinton has a commanding lead with nonwhite voters, the survey shows, although she is underperforming Barack Obama’s nonwhite vote share in 2012.
Nevertheless, the survey’s authors think Missouri will be more competitive at the presidential level than in the last cycle.
“The race was a squeaker the last time there was a vacancy in the Oval Office,” Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, said in a news release. “This year looks more like 2008 than 2012.”
In 2008, GOP nominee Sen. John McCain defeated then-Sen. Barack Obama by about 3,900 votes out of almost 2.9 million votes cast in Missouri. The race was the closest in the nation — so close that many news organizations didn’t declare a victor in the state until days after Election Day.
There are some indications that Trump is paying more attention to Missouri than might have been expected just a few months ago. The campaign announced this week that it had hired a Missouri director and a communications director, for example.
The communications office did not respond to a phone call and email request for comment on the poll and the state of the Trump campaign in Missouri.
But there are no indications Trump or his running mate, Gov. Mike Pence, will come to Missouri in the immediate future. Neither presidential campaign has purchased advertising time on local broadcast stations, although some ads are airing on cable programs.
Trump is making yard signs and bumper stickers available at some Missouri locations.
Trump has a small presence in Kansas, where he leads by five points according to a Survey USA-KSN poll released earlier this month.
Clinton has made some gestures toward Missouri. Her campaign opened a St. Louis headquarters Tuesday, and last week Sen. Tim Kaine, the vice presidential nominee, raised several hundred thousand dollars in Kansas City.
“Hillary Clinton is committed to organizing in all 50 states,” said Marlon Marshall, state campaign director for Hillary for America.
Yet much of the Clinton effort remains focused on 13 battleground states, plus potential pickups like Georgia and Utah. Missouri, some sources said, remains less competitive than those states.
National Democrats may also be trying to tamp down expectations in Missouri because of the so-called Kerry effect. In 2004, nominee John Kerry promised an expensive effort in Missouri — only to withdraw from the state just weeks before the election. Kerry’s decision infuriated the state’s Democrats, including Sen. Claire McCaskill, who was then engaged in a losing campaign for governor.
Instead, the 2016 Democratic effort will be aimed at down-ballot races for the U.S. Senate and governor in the state. Kaine’s fundraiser, for example, raised money for the state party as well as the presidential campaign.
Monmouth found Sen. Roy Blunt leading Democratic opponent Jason Kander by five points, 48 percent to 43 percent. Democrat Chris Koster leads in the governor’s race by 11 points, the survey said, 51 percent to 40 percent for Republican nominee Eric Greitens.
The Survey USA poll had the governor’s race much closer — 44 percent for Koster compared with 42 percent for Greitens.
The Monmouth poll included Libertarian Gary Johnson as an option in the presidential race. He had the support of 8 percent of likely voters who responded to the poll.
Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein wasn’t included in either survey. Stein will be on the November ballot in Missouri, the secretary of state’s office said Tuesday.