JEFFERSON CITY • Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, is weathering the Republican winds gusting around him this election year, but his comfort zone isn’t big enough for him to coast, a new Post-Dispatch/News 4 poll suggests.
The governor has a 9-point lead over his likely Republican challenger in the Nov. 6 election, St. Louis businessman Dave Spence, according to a telephone survey of 625 likely Missouri voters last Monday through Wednesday.
Nixon is ahead while Democrats are foundering in the presidential and U.S. Senate races in Missouri, the poll found. And that’s Nixon’s biggest liability, said pollster J. Brad Coker.
“What he’s got working against him is, the president isn’t very popular and Sen. (Claire) McCaskill has her share of problems. To the extent they might drag him down, he’s gotta be concerned, but right now he’s the favorite,” Coker said.
The 9-point margin is far below the 19-point victory Nixon won over Republican Kenny Hulshof in 2008. The apparent dip in Nixon’s backing comes even after the governor’s efforts to shore up his support in conservative rural Missouri.
Overall, Nixon was favored by 48 percent of poll respondents while Spence was supported by 39 percent; 13 percent of those surveyed had not decided whom they will support for governor in November.
The poll was conducted for the Post-Dispatch and KMOV (Channel 4) by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. of Washington. It has a margin of error of 4 percentage points in either direction, making it possible that Nixon might be further ahead or that the race might be closer.
The general election is more than three months away and Nixon has just begun to air television ads featuring his rural background. He has not yet taken on Spence, who seems likely to be picked next week as the Republican nominee.
Poll respondents who are likely to vote in the Republican primary on Aug. 7 overwhelmingly favored Spence, who is largely financing his own campaign.
Spence was chosen by 41 percent of the Republican voters surveyed. The next-closest GOP candidate was former attorney Bill Randles of Kansas City, who tallied 15 percent. John Weiler of Pevely and Fred Sauer of St. Louis County trailed with 3 percent and 1 percent, respectively.
Spence, who made millions when he sold his company, Alpha Packaging, in 2010, has pounded away in television ads at the state’s sagging economy, blaming Nixon for not producing more jobs.
Nixon is stressing his record as a fiscal conservative who opposes tax increases and tries to work with the Republican-dominated Legislature. His ads say Missouri does things differently than Washington does.
Recently, Nixon has spent a lot of time in Joplin, coordinating state aid in the wake of last year’s devastating tornado. That could help him win more votes than most Democrats do in solidly Republican southwestern Missouri.