President Bush and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry are both putting the midwestern state of Missouri in their "must-win" column as part of their strategy for taking the White House in November.
Missouri - known as the "Show Me" state - has gone with every presidential winner except one since 1900. Mr. Bush carried the state and its 11 electoral votes in the 2000 election by just 79,000 votes out of the 2.9 million cast. This year, opinion polls indicate he and Mr. Kerry are in a statistical tie.
Political experts say Missouri's population reflects the U.S. population as a whole. The larger cities, such as St. Louis and Kansas City, are seen as more liberal because of their more racially and ethnically diverse populations, while rural areas are more conservative. Mr. Bush won Missouri in 2000 by carrying the rural areas.
But Mr. Kerry has been spending a great deal of time in rural Missouri, which has been hit hard by the current economic downturn. The Massachusetts senator hopes his attacks on Mr. Bush's economic policies will draw rural voters away from the president.
Mr. Bush is hoping his stands on the war on terrorism and gay marriage will help him carry the state again.
Missourians passed a constitutional ban on gay marriage during a recent statewide election.