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Nixon wins governor's race

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY (AP) -- Democrat Jay Nixon claimed a mandate for change with a lopsided victory in Missouri's gubernatorial election. To make good on that, he will have to work with a Legislature still controlled by Republicans.

Missouri Democratic Governor-elect Jay Nixon pumps his fist after giving his victory speech to supporters at his election watch party Tuesday in St. Louis.
(AP Photo)
Nixon, Missouri's longest-serving attorney general, racked up the state's largest gubernatorial victory margin since 1992 -- the last time a Democrat wrested control of the Governor's Mansion away from a departing Republican governor.

With 99 percent of statewide precincts reporting results, Nixon had about 58 percent of Tuesday's vote compared with about 40 percent for Republican Rep. Kenny Hulshof -- a victory margin of greater than 500,000 out of more than 2.8 million counted.

Nixon won not only in the Democratic strongholds of St. Louis and Kansas City, but also in the traditionally Republican base of Greene County, which is the home of Springfield, and in dozens of rural counties.

He did well among voters of all ages, races and income levels, according to an analysis of information from voters interviewed as they left the polling places. The interviews were conducted for The Associated Press by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.

When he is sworn into office in January, Nixon will replace Republican Gov. Matt Blunt, who decided not to seek a second term.

Nixon ran on a dual platform of experience and change, referring to his record 16 years as attorney general and to his party's out-of-power status for the past four years. His blue, orange and white campaign banners proclaimed: ''Jay Nixon. Independent. Experienced. The Change We Need.''

''Loudly and clearly, the people of Missouri went to the polls and voted to take our state in a new direction, and that's exactly what they'll get,'' Nixon said Tuesday night in an interview with The Associated Press.

But Nixon's strength didn't trickle down to legislative races. Republicans added to their majority in the state Senate and retained their advantage over Democrats in the House.

In election night remarks from St. Louis, Nixon proclaimed that his mandate for change means creating new jobs in a sluggish economy, reversing the 2005 Medicaid cuts enacted by Republicans and enacting a new scholarship program that provides four years of free tuition for students who start at community colleges and keep good grades.

Republicans, however, have been hesitant to reverse the Medicaid cuts they enacted to balance the budget. Missouri ended its last fiscal year with a surplus, but lagging tax revenues this year means Nixon could face a financial challenge within his first years in office.

Hulshof sought to patch over hard feelings from a race in which he implied that Nixon was corrupt and in which Nixon repeatedly referred to him as a Washington politician while highlighting Missouri's economic troubles.

''You have to accentuate the negative'' in a campaign, Hulshof told supporters in Columbia shortly after conceding, ''but now is the time I think that we really focus on what is good with our state -- how we can move our state forward.''

Whereas Nixon faced no significant intraparty opposition, Hulshof had to fend off a tough Republican primary challenge from Treasurer Sarah Steelman and entered the contest against Nixon with a disadvantage both in money and statewide name recognition.