By CHRIS BLANK
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Want to pick who represents you in the Missouri Capitol? It's too late in many legislative districts unless you were among the 23 percent of the state's registered voters to cast ballots in this past week's primary.
Half the general election campaigns for the Missouri Legislature will be uncontested or feature only third-party candidates against the Republican or Democrat.
And while a few of the Republicans campaigning for the Missouri Senate might experience some personal nervous moments before the November vote, the state GOP can rest comfortably knowing its majority is safe in the 34-member chamber. Thanks to a combination of GOP senators who won election two years ago and are not on the ballot and others running uncontested this year, the party stands to keep at least 18 seats in the 34-member chamber.
Among those clinching early were Majority Leader Tom Dempsey and Sen. Eric Schmitt, who faced no opposition in their primaries. Three other Republicans representing southern Missouri districts have locked up their races after winning contested GOP primaries.
Democrats will not control the Senate, but four have guaranteed spots in the chamber. Kiki Curls, who won a 2011 special election in Kansas City, faced no opposition for a full term. Paul LeVota, of Independence, also was unopposed. Two others had to win competitive primaries but face no general election opponent.
Across the Capitol Rotunda in the Missouri House, Republicans essentially have secured more than 50 seats but still have a little work to do this fall to get the 82 members needed to control the 163-member chamber. House Democrats have clinched nearly 30 seats.
Republicans secured districts in suburban St. Louis and Kansas City as well as in several rural areas. A swath of the state stretching largely uninterrupted from Joplin northeast into central Missouri through the Lake of the Ozarks falls within state House districts that have been decided for the GOP.
Democratic candidates face no opposition in several districts in Kansas City, plus part of St. Louis County and most of St. Louis city. Sitting lawmakers in Columbia, Hillsboro and Bonne Terre also were not challenged.
The number of legislative races to be essentially decided before the general election is slightly more than two years ago. In the 2010 state Senate races, three Republicans and two Democrats had no general election opponent while two Republicans and one Democrat faced a Libertarian or Constitution party challenger. For the state House, 42 Republicans and 28 Democrats either were unopposed or had a third-party rival.
This year's non-competitive races come despite new legislative maps. Boundaries were rearranged in the House and Senate to account for population changes from the 2010 census. The shuffling prompted four primaries between Democratic House members from the St. Louis area but did not stop others from wrapping up their races before school starts.
"If it's that way today, then by mid-decade and the end of the decade, it will be even worse," said Bob Johnson, a former Republican state lawmaker who previously advocated for more competitive legislative districts.
During the discussions about redistricting, Johnson and former Democratic lawmaker Joan Bray suggested officials consider competitiveness in the new districts. He said deciding races in primaries instead of general elections affects what happens at the Capitol.
"The elected officials form whichever party they were elected under - whatever banner they were elected under - they understand they don't have to appeal to the majority of the voters who will vote in November. And all they have to do is appeal to the primary voter, which generally is the base of their party," Johnson said.
"And as a result," he said, "their representation gets skewed to a minority of their voters, a minority of their constituents and good government only happens by accident when that happens."