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Presidential Race a Toss Up in Missouri

Among the so-called swing states or toss-up states in this year's presidential election, the one where the race may be the hardest to call is the Midwestern state of Missouri. Democratic candidate Barack Obama and Republican candidate John McCain are in a statistical dead heat in the state and, as VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the result will probably depend on turnout.

Missouri is a state with two large urban centers, one to the east, St. Louis, on the Mississippi River, and one in the northwest, Kansas City, on the Missouri River. But the presidential contest in Missouri could hinge on how people in the middle and south of the state vote and how many of them show up at the polls. In what is called out-state Missouri, voters tend to be more conservative.

But, Missouri State University Political Science Professor George Connor says economic concerns, including home foreclosures, cutbacks in healthcare programs and job losses at factories could give Obama an edge.

"The economy, and in particular foreclosures, is going to play a role and it is like everywhere else in the United States: every day the economy is bad is another good day for Barack Obama," Connor said.

The key, Connor says is how big the turnout will be in the urban areas and close-in suburbs, where Democrats tend to do well. In the past, he says, doing well in the urban areas alone has not been enough to win the state's 11 electoral votes, but this time may be different.

"A Democrat has not been able to win the state of Missouri by just carrying the urban areas," he said. "They have had to carry the urban areas and make some headway in out-state Missouri. The way the numbers are looking in Kansas City and Saint Louis and, to a lesser extent, Jefferson City and Columbia, Barack Obama is going to get turnout way bigger than any Democrat has done statewide, which suggests that he would need less of the out-state Missouri turnout."

The last poll results in Missouri show John McCain with a razor-thin lead, but since it is within the margin of error, he and Obama are seen as tied.

While Obama can count on strong support from African-Americans, urban professionals and much of the youth in urban areas, George Connor says McCain's running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, has energized conservative voters in out-state areas. Which of those two currents drives more people to the polls will determine which of the two campaigns emerges triumphant in Missouri.