KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri voters strayed from party lines on Election Day, sending Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill back to Washington and Gov. Jay Nixon back to Jefferson City while also turning their 10 electoral votes over to Republican Mitt Romney's failed bid for the White House.
McCaskill managed to hold off a stiff challenge from Republican Todd Akin on Tuesday, even though she acknowledged being the underdog early in the race. That changed following Akin's much-publicized remarks about "legitimate rape," which many voters said played a factor in their decision.
"With a stubborn determination, tenacity and a refusal to give up, we showed the country what Missouri is made of," McCaskill told cheering supporters at her election night party in St. Louis.
McCaskill helped the Democrats secure a majority in the Senate, securing Republican-held seats in Massachusetts and Indiana and turning back fierce, expensive challenges elsewhere.
Romney's victory marked the second straight election that Obama failed to carry the state, though neither presidential candidate did much campaigning in Missouri. Obama long ago conceded the state, allowing Romney to focus on battleground states elsewhere.
Nixon defeated Republican challenger Dave Spence in a gubernatorial contest focused largely on the economy. Nixon successfully campaigned around his ability to work with Missouri's Republican Legislature to become the state's first two-term governor since Mel Carnahan in 1996.
"Missourians said that because we've been able to work together, because we've put the common good first, we're moving in the right direction," Nixon said.
All seven incumbents in Missouri's U.S. House delegation were re-elected: Emanuel Cleaver, Sam Graves, William Lacy Clay Jr., Billy Long, Blaine Luetkemeyer and Jo Ann Emerson each defeated challengers with less name recognition and far fewer campaign resources, and first-term GOP Rep. Vicky Hartzler held off challenger Teresa Hensley in a closely watched contest.
Ann Wagner, a former state Republican leader and U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, will succeed Akin in Congress. Wagner is a former Missouri Republican Party chairwoman.
Missouri was electing just eight members of Congress instead of nine because of redistricting after the 2010 census. For the first time in three decades, the state lost a seat in the U.S. House when its population failed to keep pace with other faster-growing states.
Several contentious policy issues were on the ballot, including a measure that voters struck down that would have increased Missouri's lowest-in-the nation tobacco tax by 73 cents per pack. It was the third time in a decade voters rejected an effort to boost the tax from 17 cents.
Voters passed a measure limiting the governor's ability to implement part of Obama's health care law and a proposition allowing St. Louis to oversee its own police, but voted down a measure that would have changed the makeup of the state's nonpartisan, seven-member Appellate Judicial Commission to give the governor four appointees, instead of the current three.
Election officials forecasted 72 percent of the population — more than 3 million of nearly the 4.2 million registered voters — would cast ballots, and long lines were reported at polling places across the state. Only minor glitches had been reported to the secretary of state's office.
The race between McCaskill and Akin was already firmly in political crosshairs for its pivotal role in deciding which party would control Senate, but the spotlight intensified when Akin said in a TV interview in August that pregnancy is rare "if it's legitimate" rape because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
McCaskill, considered among the most vulnerable of Democratic incumbent senators, capitalized on Akin's comments about pregnancy and rape to portray him as a right-wing extremist, and voters ultimately sided with her in a state increasingly favoring Republicans.
"It was very easy to vote against Akin with the things that he said," said Amanda Blinebry, a 27-year-old research specialist from St. Louis. "It wasn't hard to make that choice."
Akin apologized for his comments and admitted he was wrong, but top Republicans — Romney among them — called for him to drop out of the race. The six-term congressman refused, and even mounted a comeback late in his campaign.
According to a preliminary exit poll conducted in Missouri for The Associated Press, a solid majority of voters said they gave Akin's remark at least some consideration when they entered the voting booth, and those who did overwhelmingly sided with McCaskill.
Voters split nearly evenly between pro-choice and anti-abortion views, while exit polls showed that McCaskill performed well among women and Akin well among men.
"I like everything about him. He made one mistake. He apologized a dozen times," said 87-year-old John Shields, a resident of St. Louis County and the chairman of Schaeffer Manufacturing, in explaining his vote for Akin. "Every politician misspeaks and he misspoke on that issue."
Akin tried in vain to gloss over his "six-second mistake" and highlight McCaskill's close ties to Obama, including her support for his 2010 health care law and the 2009 stimulus act.
Nixon, seldom emphasizing his Democratic affiliation, became a two-term governor by pointing to his work in keeping the state's unemployment rate below the national average, and highlighting the addition of 17,900 jobs in August, when many undecided voters were weighing their choice.
Nixon also noted his steady leadership after natural disasters, including the deadly Joplin tornado and massive flooding along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.
Spence, the former CEO of a St. Louis-based plastics company, was seeking his first elective office by arguing Missouri had fallen behind neighboring states in business development.
In other statewide races, Democratic Missouri House member Jason Kander defeated fellow state lawmaker Shane Schoeller early Wednesday to succeed Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, who opted not to run for a third term. Missouri Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder secured a third term by defeating Democratic former state Auditor Susan Montee, and Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster won a second term by beating Ed martin, the chief of staff to a former Republican governor.
Democratic Treasurer Clint Zweifel also defeated Republican state Rep. Cole McNary.