JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - To change course or not? That was the decision before Missouri voters on Tuesday as they were deciding whether to oust Democratic incumbents in the presidency, Senate and governor's office in favor of Republican challengers.
Among Missouri's many races, the Senate contest between Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill and Republican congressman Todd Akin drew the most attention. That was partly because Akin's much-publicized remarks about pregnancy and rape, and partly because Missouri's Senate seat figures prominently into the battle for party control of the chamber.
The McCaskill-Akin contest filled the advertising gap on Missouri's airwaves created by the absence of campaigning by either Democratic President Barack Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The Senate race also has overshadowed a large number of down-ballot races, including contests for governor, four other statewide executive offices, scores of federal and state legislative seats, various judges and local county officials.
Missouri will be electing just eight members of Congress instead of nine because of redistricting after the 2010 census. For the first time in three decades, Missouri lost a seat in the U.S. House because its population failed to keep pace with other faster-growing states.
Missouri voters also face policy choices on Tuesday's ballot. Do they want to raise the lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax, with proceeds benefiting education and anti-tobacco initiatives? Do they want to change the commission responsible for nominating Missouri's top judges? There also are ballot questions relating to the implementation of Obama's health care law in Missouri and the governing body for the St. Louis police department.
State election officials had forecast 72 percent of the population - or more than 3 million of nearly 4.2 million registered voters - would cast ballots.
Spokeswoman Stacie Temple said at mid-afternoon Tuesday the Secretary of State's Office was getting reports of long lines and only minor glitches at polling places. It was too early to have specific numbers, she said.
"What we are hearing right now is that there has so far been very high voter turnout," Temple said. "A lot of people are going to the polls. Things seem to be going smoothly overall, but there are lines so people should prepare to allow enough time to vote."
In the U.S. Senate race, McCaskill is hoping voters will be swayed by Akin's opposition to such things as federal student loans, the minimum wage and emergency contraception for rape victims. She's been reminding voters of remarks Akin made in August when, while explaining his opposition to abortion, he said pregnancy in rape is "really rare," because "if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
The comments clearly weighed on voters, both Democrat and Republican.
"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."
At the Kansas City Art Institute, Richard Kinsman, a 59-year-old chef, also said he voted for McCaskill: "You don't even want to hear what I have to say about Akin."
Akin is hoping voters will be swayed less by what he describes as "my six-second mistake" and more by McCaskill's close ties to Obama and her family's links to federal money. Akin has highlighted McCaskill's support for Obama's 2010 health care law and the 2009 stimulus act.
Republican voter Erica White, a 39-year-old nurse from Jefferson City, said she "was going to give (Akin) the benefit of the doubt that perhaps he misspoke, and I believe in his ultimate beliefs - the right to life and the just the general attitude of the Republican Party."
Joan Schnoebelen, 69, a real estate agent from Warson Woods, said she forgave Akin's comment on rape.
"I call that a small mistake in the big scheme of things. I think he's the best person for the job. We all make mistakes in life," she said.
In the gubernatorial race, Nixon is hoping to become the first governor to win a second term since Democrat Mel Carnahan in 1996. He faces Republican businessman Dave Spence, and their contest has focused largely on the economy. Nixon says Missouri is "moving forward" under his leadership; Spence asserts that Missouri is falling behind neighboring states.
In other races, Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder is seeking a third term against Democrat Susan Montee, a former state auditor. Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster faces a challenge from Republican attorney Ed Martin, and Democratic Treasurer Clint Zweifel is opposed by Republican state Rep. Cole McNary.
Two state House members want to succeed Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, who is not running for re-election. Those contestants are Republican Rep. Shane Schoeller, of Willard, and Democratic Rep. Jason Kander, of Kansas City.