Today John Steffen, a resident of St. Louis City's liberal Central West End neighborhood, left his polling place without voting. He'd already waited in line half an hour and had to get to the office. (Unlike some other discouraged voters, he later returned to vote.) Out in the more conservative suburban community of Webster Groves, Kevin Gunn was one of 15 voters at his polling place at the usually sleepy hour of 2 p.m. The election judge told him it was the busiest Election Day he'd ever seen. Across Missouri, including reports of absentee ballots in rural areas, anecdotal reports indicate high turnout across the board, in both conservative and liberal bastions. The cause is the hotly contested Senate race between Democrat Claire McCaskill and incumbent Republican Jim Talent, but also Amendment 2 -- a ballot initiative to protect stem cell research in Missouri.
Over the past two months, the Roman Catholic Church and evangelical groups have managed to make defeating the amendment a cause célèbre for socially conservative voters in Missouri. Having been thumped by the religious right two years ago -- a gay marriage ban that passed easily -- Democratic strategists are nervous about the Amendment 2 effect. The initiative was welcomed by Democrats a year ago when it was perceived as a way to drive a wedge between moderate Republicans and the party's Christian fundamentalist base. Today, however, there's fear that it may have incited the conservative base, thought to be disillusioned and sulking, to trek to the polls. If so, their numbers may overwhelm voters in places like the Central West End. That's what happened in 2004, when the urban area's turnout increased by 15 percent only to be trumped by a 20 percent increase in conservative counties. In 2004, Claire McCaskill lost the governor's race to Republican Matt Blunt by less than 3 percent.