Four years ago, Missouri Democratic Governor Jay Nixon was elected by 19 points--a landslide. But this time around, it may not be so easy for him.
Some polls show St. Louis businessman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Dave Spence within striking distance of the Governor.
The race has been personal at times, it’s primarily been about one overarching issue: jobs.
The Business of Government
Dave Spence owns a couple of plastics businesses. One of those businesses is Alpha Packaging.
“What we’re doing is we’re cycling about every 17 seconds 22 bottles outta there. It goes from molten to being cooled down in about 17 seconds,” said Spence.
Alpha Packaging makes over a billion bottles a year. The bottles are shipped to pharmaceutical and cosmetic businesses and end up in stores like Walgreens and Bed Bath and Beyond.
Spence ran the business for 27 years. He stepped down as president last year so he could run for governor.
But Spence returned to the factory a couple weeks ago to give tours to the media -- in an attempt to showcase his experience creating jobs. Spence said Alpha Packaging now employs about 800 people.
Spence has repeatedly said that his business experience would prepare him for the gubernatorial position. Spence said government and business aren’t all that different.
“No one governor does everything by themselves. You surround yourself with good people and you lead them, it’s no different than a business,” said Spence.
Unemployment: “It’s A Problem Everywhere”
Nixon has repeatedly touted Missouri’s unemployment rate, which is now less than 7 percent, the lowest it’s been in almost 4 years. For some context, that’s almost a full percentage point less than the national unemployment rate.
But Spence said the numbers are misleading.
“Our true unemployment is 9% and if you really dig deep, our true true unemployment with people who have given up or dropped out of the work force is 14%,” said Spence.
That’s economist Jack Strauss with Saint Louis University. He said Missouri compares favorably to the other Midwest states.
“You can’t really use that as a problem because that problem is just everywhere,” said Strauss.
He notes the unemployment rate in Missouri is lower than the national average.
Strauss said our unemployment rate is good, but where Missouri isn’t stellar is job growth. Strauss said that could be due to an aging population, but he re-iterates that we are still 16th in the nation in economic growth.
Right To Work
Spence said Missouri’s economy would be better with Right to Work legislation, and he’s proud that none of his businesses are unionized.
Right to Work refers to a law that would prohibit union members and employers from agreeing to make union dues a requisite of employment. It’s been a contentious issue in the gubernatorial race – and one that Nixon was eager to bring up at a union rally in St. Louis.
“My opponent has said that the first thing he would do is pass right to work legislation,” said Nixon.
Nixon has made a promise to the hundreds of union workers that “right to work will not happen on my watch.”
Nixon hasn’t made many campaign visits to St. Louis, instead electing to do more gubernatorial events -- like handing out awards to farmers and cutting ribbons at new businesses.
But many of the campaign events he has done around St. Louis have been union events. Last week, he was in Wentzville talking to autoworkers -- bragging that Ford and GM would be bringing over 3 thousand new jobs to the state, and touting the unemployment rate.
“That’s the 2nd largest drop of any state in the country since I’ve been sworn in. It was 8.6 when I was sworn in, it’s 6.9 now. We’re not done, but boy we’re headed in a direction that clearly sees us continuing to work,” said Nixon.
Trading Barbs: Union Funding And TARP Money
But this race has occasionally deviated from jobs talk. At a forum in Columbia, Nixon became visibly red after Spence accused him of being in the pocket of labor unions and attorneys that have contributed to his campaign.
Spence’s campaign is funded largely by his own personal wealth. He’s donated 6 million dollars out of his own pocket to his campaign.
Nixon has received large sums of money from labor unions, law firms and businesses. The Republican Governors Association and the Democratic Governors Association have each donated over 2 million dollars to their respective candidate.
Around the time of the forum, Nixon released his first attack ad, criticizing Spence for his bank accepting a TARP bailout that hasn’t been paid back yet.
Spence issued a cease and desist letter to stations airing the ad, saying the ad was false because he’s not a banker and because his bank accepted the TARP funds before he joined the Board.
Nixon responded by releasing another attack ad on the bailout. In turn, Spence sued Nixon’s campaign for defamation. That lawsuit is still in contention.
Nixon and Spence are joined by Libertarian party candidate Jim Higgins. Higgins wants to lower taxes and is against all tax subsidies and tax credits.