Republican incumbent Gov. Mike Parson has sustained double-digit leads in polls through the summer over his Democratic challenger, state Auditor Nicole Galloway, in their Nov. 3 gubernatorial race.
But what had been 12-13 percent leads in August voter surveys have been whittled back to 6-7 percent, even as low as 2 percent, leads in mid-October polls.
The consensus is Galloway’s criticism of Parson’s response to COVID-19, and her detailed plans in how she would address it, are gaining traction, especially as COIVD-19 case counts, deaths and hospitalizations spike in Missouri as they are across much of the nation, especially in the Midwest.
With the pandemic getting worse, Parson’s policies, in line with those espoused by the Trump administration, are increasingly being rejected by suburban voters who span Missouri’s traditional urban-rural voting divide.
A relatively small shift in a relatively small number of counties could carry the state, as it did in 2019 when Medicaid expansion was adopted by state voters even though it only passed in seven of the state’s 114 counties.
Galloway, 38, was appointed Missouri state auditor in 2015 and was elected to the position in 2018. She is Missouri’s only statewide-elected Democrat.
If elected, as governor she would “reset’ the state’s COVID-19 response strategies, beginning with a statewide mask mandate, be more collaborative with school districts in handling the pandemic and convene an “emergency medical task force” with public health experts, hospital administrators and state officials to advise her and offer daily public briefings.
“We have to take action and act urgently to contain the spread of this virus so we can get our economy open again (and) get our schools open again,” she said in an Oct. 9 debate with Parson.
Parson has refused to issue any statewide mandates, leaving most decisions to local officials. He was one of the nation’s last governors to issue a statewide stay-home order in the spring. When that order expired in May, he toured the state mask-less encouraging people to go shopping.
In March, Parson said “it’s not going to come down to government to fix this” and over the summer predicted children will contract the virus at schools and “get over it.”
That approach, Galloway frequently notes, is why Parson himself contracted the disease in September, along with family members, aides and 1,800 state employees.
Rather than address the pandemic, which repeated polls cites as Missouri voters’ primary concern, Parson has made violent crime in St. Louis and Kansas City, and Galloway’s “liberal agenda,” central to his campaign.
Parson, 65, was elected lieutenant governor in 2016 and ascended to governor in June 2018 when Gov. Eric Greitens was forced to resign.
A former state representative and senator and served as Polk County sheriff, he called a special session this summer to adopt eight proposed bills designed to address violent crime. Lawmakers, including Republicans, did not see the urgent need for an emergency session, adopting two of the governor’s measures.
“We did the things we needed to do to give law enforcement the tools they needed,” he said in the Oct. 9 gubernatorial debate with Galloway, criticizing calls by activists to “defund the police,” despite no such measure being pondered by any Missouri government.
Both Galloway and Parson say they will implement Medicaid expansion as voters approved in 2019.
Galloway has pledged to pass a state law barring insurers from refusing to cover the more than 1 million Missourians with pre-existing conditions and to implement expansion without new taxes or spending cuts.
Parson also supports protections for pre-existing conditions and has vowed to implement expansion in accordance with voters’ wishes, but has hinted Missouri cannot afford the $200 million it will require next year.
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