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On the campaign trail, Parson pushes freedom, Galloway says incumbent governor ‘has failed’

On the campaign trail, Parson pushes freedom, Galloway says incumbent governor ‘has failed’

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A long line forms at about 9 a.m. Saturday outside the St. Louis County Board of Elections office in St. Ann as voters seek to cast absentee ballots before Tuesday’s general election. Video by Christian Gooden

JEFFERSON CITY — The two major candidates for Missouri governor hammered home their messages in the days before Tuesday’s election, trekking up and down the state’s highways in a race to decide who will control state government for the next four years. 

Democratic Auditor Nicole Galloway, 38, is trying to wrest the top spot from Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who was sworn in after the June 2018 resignation of scandal-plagued Gov. Eric Greitens.

With polls showing Parson with a single-digit lead, the two spent much of the lead-up to Election Day trying to shore up their bases during dueling bus tours. Hers was blue. His was red.

Parson, 65, carved a path mostly through the state’s rural areas, drumming up support in five southeast Missouri counties on Wednesday, four southwest Missouri counties on Thursday, and five other western Missouri counties on Friday.

None of the 33 stops included a visit to St. Louis or St. Louis County, a sign Parson is focused on driving up his margins in the state’s deeply conservative rural areas. 

During his events, he told the audience about his rural, public school and Christian roots and mentioned that his Democratic opponent had grown up in St. Louis and attended private school, without mentioning that the school Galloway attended was Roman Catholic. 

Parson said Tuesday in Columbia that “I learned what it was like to work hard on a farm, to be good neighbors, to respect people, what it’s like to sit in a pew.”

The comments drew criticism from Galloway, a graduate of Ursuline Academy in St. Louis County, who told voters to “read between the lines” and that “here’s what he’s saying to women who went to Catholic, all-girl, or religious schools: You’re not qualified to be governor.”

Galloway worked for votes in Kansas City and St. Louis last weekend, with a Saturday morning stop in south St. Louis County, a mid-afternoon visit to the United Auto Workers Local 2250 union hall in Wentzville, and a “drive-in” rally late afternoon at Queeny Park in west St. Louis County.

She spent Tuesday in Rolla and southeast Missouri, Wednesday in St. Louis — starting at 6:30 a.m. to attend the shift change at the Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis — and Thursday in mid- and southwest Missouri.

The all-over-the-state strategy by Galloway shows what Democrats need to accomplish to pull off a win: rack up record support in the state’s cities and suburbs while preventing GOP blowouts everywhere else.

At the drive-in rally Oct. 24 Saturday in Queeny Park, Al Gerber, 69, of Town and Country, said “there’s a lot of energy on the Democratic side because we felt so disappointed in 2016” with the election of President Donald Trump.

He predicted Democrats “were going to make some inroads” in flipping state legislative seats. But, acknowledging Missouri’s drift away from his party in the last decade, Gerber said “at the state level, it’s tough.”

Parson imitates Trump

The kickoff event on Oct. 24 was a “Back the Blue” pro-law enforcement gathering at the Jefferson City airport. Organizer J.D. Austin, a school bus driver, wanted to hold it on the Capitol grounds, but moved it across the river to Callaway County after local health department officials told him he’d have to limit the number of attendees because of social distancing rules.

Except for Parson’s motor coach, the event largely resembled a pro-Trump rally, with large flags promoting the president.

Parson, like Trump, has had to adjust his campaign after the coronavirus sunk the economy. And like Trump, Parson has had his own encounter with the coronavirus. In September, Parson and his wife, Teresa, tested positive for COVID-19. Though Parson never had any symptoms, he quarantined in the Governor’s Mansion, while the first lady isolated at home in Bolivar.

And, also like Trump, the governor has seized on the protests that began after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, pushing a “law and order” message.

Clad in jeans and cowboy boots, Parson, a former Polk County sheriff, offered up his pro-police talking points at the Jeff City rally.

“We’re not going to defund no police in the State of Missouri,” Parson told the crowd of about 75. “They can say that all they want. It is not going to happen. It is not going to happen.”

Down the road in California, Missouri, Parson took the stage in the parking lot of a Dollar General store and hit on other themes common to the GOP ticket, promoting his support of veterans, bashing the media, criticizing the “Green New Deal“ and explaining why he hasn’t mandated wearing masks during the pandemic.

He said Missourians want freedom, not socialism.

“They don’t need a governor to tell you everything you need to do,” he said.

He also warned the rural crowd that Democrats are hoping a surge of votes from the state’s two large cities will carry them to victory.

“They’re going to drive that vote in the urban areas,” Parson said.

In Bates City, with the hum of traffic on nearby Interstate 70 as a backdrop, Parson climbed aboard a massive off-road Caterpillar dump truck positioned next to the stage and then waded into the crowd for handshakes and selfies.

Parson tried to tie Galloway to Cori Bush, the Democratic nominee in the 1st Congressional District, who received widespread criticism for saying it was time to “defund the Pentagon,” as well as to vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris and Stacey Abrams, an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Senate in Georgia. The mention of each drew boos from the crowd of about 80 people.

Again, he defended his approach to the pandemic.

“I can suggest. I can give you guidance. But I will not mandate you wear a mask,” Parson said.

He added that he also will not require people to get a vaccine.

“You know how to take care of yourself,” Parson said.

Parson has said that local officials may set rules more stringent than the state’s, including requiring face coverings in public settings. Cape Girardeau County, in southeast Missouri, has mandated face coverings inside businesses and in public places.

After Parson visited the My Daddy’s Cheesecake shop in Cape Girardeau on Wednesday, posing for pictures without a mask, Democrats sent out a news release blasting the governor.

“Today, Governor Parson egregiously violated Cape Girardeau’s mask mandate,” said Lauren Gepford, executive director of the Missouri Democrats. “Missouri deserves a governor who leads by example.”

Galloway: 'Every vote matters'

On Oct. 1, during a cool night outside of WJ’s bar in Boonville, Galloway, mask on, told a meeting of about 20 Cooper County Democrats that she “never expected” to be running for governor. “My mom’s a nurse, my dad’s an engineer. We just didn’t do politics growing up.”

“The most important thing the next governor will have to do is contain the spread of the virus and rebuild Missouri’s economy,” she said. “The question is: will we rebuild in a way that helps working folks get back on their feet, or, will we continue to ignore science, and distract, and rebuild only for well-connected special interests?”

After her speech, asked how important locking down rural support was to her campaign, Galloway told the Post-Dispatch that “every vote matters statewide” and said “there are votes out there if you give them a reason to come out and vote and talk about the issues that matter to them.”

She made a pitch to Missouri state workers, saying “I find that many times state workers want improvements in government, see that there needs to be change in how government operates and want to get there. But you need new leadership in order for that to happen.”

Galloway hasn’t shied away from criticizing the incumbent, blasting policy decisions such as his administration removing 100,000 children from Medicaid and his handling of the pandemic. COVID-19 hospitalizations reached record highs in October, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

At the drive-in rally in Queeny Park on Oct. 24, Democrats sat in about 40 cars on a parking lot across from a picnic table where Galloway spoke. Rallygoers tuned into a radio station, where her speech was broadcast to the crowd.

“Gov. Parson has had his chance,” she said. “He has failed the test of leadership and it is time for a change.”

She mentioned her three young sons — William, 8; Benjamin, 7; and Joseph, 3 — and her husband, Jon, who had joined her on that leg of the campaign trail.

“The policy decisions made in Jefferson City around education, around health care, around COVID, they impact my family like they impact yours,” she said. “And Gov. Parson is not fighting for our working families. He’s just not.

“So I have a message for Gov. Parson: If you mess with my kids, I’m gonna have a word with you,” she said. “But, but, if you mess with all of Missouri’s children and families, I am going to build an army, I am gonna run against you, and I will win.”

The Democrats laid on their horns in applause.

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