WENTZVILLE, Mo. (AP) - With polls showing their race tightening and Election Day a week away, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and his Republican challenger Dave Spence focused on the economy during Tuesday campaign stops, but with starkly different takes.
Nixon, a Democrat, told autoworkers at a Wentzville diner that Missouri auto plants have added 3,200 jobs during his four years in office, including about 1,200 at the GM plant in Wentzville, about 40 miles west of St. Louis. Nearly 2,000 more are being added at the Ford Claycomo plant in Kansas City.
"We get up every day and work," Nixon said inside the cramped eatery. "And more of you folks are going to be working and by the time we get here next year this isn't going to be a big enough place for everybody."
Nixon also as cited other successes, such as the state's declining unemployment rate and increasing exports of Missouri-made goods.
Missouri's unemployment rate dipped to 6.9 percent in September, the lowest since late 2008, according to figures released earlier this month by the Missouri Department of Economic Development. The national rate is 7.8 percent. Nixon said the drop since he took office, to 6.9 percent from 8.6 percent, is second-best in the nation during that time.
Jared Craighead, Spence's campaign manager, said those numbers are misleading because many jobseekers have simply stopped looking.
"People are leaving Missouri because of Jay Nixon's failed policies," Craighead said. "We're at 79,000 fewer people that are employed than when Jay Nixon took office. We've got 107,000 fewer people that are looking for work. They've just given up."
The economy was front and center during Spence's campaign stops Tuesday in Farmington, Cape Girardeau and Poplar Bluff. The St. Louis businessman discussed how he would go about adding jobs if elected.
A recent poll commissioned by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Kansas City Star and KMOV-TV showed Nixon with a 6 percentage point lead over Spence, 48-42, with 9 percent of respondents undecided. The telephone poll of 625 registered voters was conducted Oct. 23-25 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Earlier polls generally had Nixon up by around 10 percent.
Nixon said rebuilding Missouri's auto industry was a priority from his first day in office when he signed an executive order establishing the Missouri Automotive Jobs Task Force. He said he made multiple trips to Detroit to help convince GM and Ford to expand in Missouri.
Ford announced last fall plans for a $1.1 billion expansion of the Claycomo plant, where it will make the North American version of its popular European commercial Transit van. Ford also is adding a new stamping plant and a second line for the F-150 pickup.
Also last fall, GM announced plans to add the Chevrolet Colorado pickup to the products made in Wentzville, where full-size vans were already being made. GM is spending $380 million on the 500,000 square-foot expansion, aided by city and state tax incentives.
Just two years earlier, GM was in bankruptcy and shut down a second shift in Wentzville. Those workers have been recalled in addition to the new ones being added.
Missouri once ranked just behind Michigan in the number of autoworkers and plants. The St. Louis area once had four plants. But Ford closed its plant in Hazelwood in 2006 and Daimler Chrysler shut down plants in Fenton in 2008 and 2009, leaving thousands of autoworkers without jobs and affecting thousands of other workers at supplier plants.
Spence said he wants to make a Missouri a more business-friendly place. He has the backing of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which represents about 13,000 businesses.
Also in Wentzville, Nixon again cited what he has said in TV ads, touting his ability to work with Republicans in the Missouri House and Senate. But later Tuesday, Spence's campaign put out a letter signed by 16 statehouse Republicans debunking the claim.
"Governor Nixon has been a partisan Democrat for his entire 26-year political career," the letter states. "Nothing has changed now other than this is an election year and Missourians oppose big government more than ever."
The two campaigns are on nearly equal financial footing thanks in large part to the fact that Spence has loaned or given his campaign $6 million since declaring his candidacy last year. That includes a $1 million contribution dated Friday. Spence now has nearly $1.3 million in his campaign coffers; Nixon's finance report shows he had nearly $1.6 million as of Thursday.