For the first time in several years, Northwest Missouri State University political scientist Dan Smith says the state’s presidential preference primary matters. About 40% of Missouri voters are expected to head to the polls today to choose who they want to be president later this year. Smith says Super Tuesday results last week created a close race between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination – putting Missouri in a unique position to be relevant nationally.

Professor Dan Smith (Photo courtesy of NWMSU)

“I’m pretty confident in saying Missouri matters this year,” he says. “We didn’t know it was going to matter two weeks ago. It’s very much undecided on the Democratic side and that means a lot as far as what the campaign is going to look like going forward. Because of Super Tuesday changing the race but making it now a two-person race, Missouri matters. We didn’t matter four years ago. We didn’t matter in a lot of these primaries because we’re after Super Tuesday.”

But after Super Tuesday, he says Sanders and Biden are not separated by many votes or delegates. He’s not sure which one will win the Democratic nomination in Missouri.

“We may get more attention than, I don’t think we’re going to be an afterthought because there’s only so much going on. And in some ways, we may get more attention than we would have gotten on Super Tuesday,” he says.

Smith says Missouri’s results today will matter more than in the General Election because today’s outcome could change the national results in November. Smith says President Trump is expected to win comfortably in Missouri today and in November.

“The question is, is turnout in the Democratic areas. I’ll say, this is true nationally, it’s very true in Missouri as well. Republican voters are more reliable, more consistent, more likely to vote. But there are more Democrats,” he says. “That’s true nationally. In Missouri, that’s not necessarily true. But if the Democrats turnout in large numbers, it’s relatively close. In 2016, turnout in Kansas City and St. Louis was not very good. In the suburbs, it was not very good. So Trump won essentially a landslide. If Democrats turnout in large numbers, it will be closer – not enough to flip the state. I don’t think there’s that much risk to Trump or the Republicans holding Missouri. But, it could be competitive enough that he has to campaign in the state if Democratic turnout is high. What we saw from Super Tuesday is there were some surprisingly high numbers.

For example, Smith cites Fairfax County in Virginia, where 100,000 more people voted in the Democratic primary last week than in 2016.

“That’s staggering numbers and they weren’t Sanders people. They were Biden people. He won the state by 30 points. That’s the kind of, if you will, enthusiasm or turnout numbers that we’re seeing in a lot of the states in the primaries,” he says. “That speaks to what we might be seeing in the fall with levels of turnout.”

Another reason why Missouri matters? The level of division at the Democratic National Convention.

“If Biden runs the table in the next couple of weeks, then it increases the likelihood that they come to some kind of compromise. If Biden becomes inevitable, if he has enough delegates when he gets to the Convention to win, then the Sanders people can’t contest it,” says Smith.

Today’s polls are open statewide from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

To listen to all of Smith’s remarks, click below.

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