In a deeply polarized country, what Ralph Sadberry plans to do on Election Day might make little sense.
The 60-year-old Sears repair technician from Ozark, Mo., calls himself a Republican and is ready to vote for Mitt Romney for president. But then he expects to move across the ballot and vote for a pair of Democrats: Claire McCaskill for the U.S. Senate and Jay Nixon for governor.
Sadberry is a classic ticket-splitter, a tradition with a long history in the Show-Me State. And he says there’s nothing the least incongruous about his plans.
“You’re looking for the person who’s going to represent Missouri the best,” he said. “We have to work together across party lines to make this country work.”
Based on state polls, Sadberry should have a lot of company. If Romney goes on to beat President Barack Obama by 10 percent next week in Missouri, he’ll win by about 300,000 votes if the same number of Missourians turn out as in 2008.
If McCaskill and Nixon are to win, as polls also suggest, that means they’ll have to entice at least 150,000 of those Romney voters to swing back to the Democratic side of the ballot. That’s a full 5 percent of the electorate. And if Romney carries Missouri by more than 10 points, and if McCaskill and Nixon win with any votes to spare, that percentage of ticket-splitters only rises.
“Missourians,” said long-time Democratic operative Roy Temple, “have a pretty strong track record of bouncing around the ballot.”
That’s how the state wound up with a Republican, John Ashcroft, as governor in 1988 and a Democrat, Mel Carnahan, as lieutenant governor. In 2008, the state easily elected Democrat Jay Nixon as governor and a Republican, Peter Kinder, as lieutenant governor.
“People … form independent judgments,” Temple said.
The gyrations can be enormous. Take that 2008 election. Nixon beat Republican Kenny Hulshof in a landslide with a margin of more than 544,000 votes. Kinder turned around and won a second term as lieutenant governor by 72,529 votes. In 1988, Missouri went big for a pair of Republicans, Jack Danforth for the U.S. Senate and John Ashcroft for governor, by two-to-one margins. But the state also sided with a Democrat, Carnahan, for lieutenant governor by nearly 100,000 votes.
At a labor hall in south Kansas City Thursday night, McCaskill said she’s confident that voters will, in fact, jump from Romney to her on Tuesday. In fact, she said voters are sending her text photos of their yards featuring both Romney and McCaskill yard signs.
“I’m in the right state for crossover voting,” the senator said. “I am very comfortable and confident that we’re gong to have a lot of people going back and forth on the ballot. We always do in Missouri.”
A study by American National Election Studies shows that while ticket-splitting has been common over the decades, it actually appears to be declining in this era of intense polarization.