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NBC's Chuck Todd predicts Obama will have an impact in Missouri, even if he stays away

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 18, 2012 - Missouri may not matter much to President Barack Obama’s re-election chances, but how well Obama performs in the state in November could determine whether U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill wins re-election – and whether the Democrats retain control of the U.S. Senate.

That, in essence, was the assessment of NBC News political director Chuck Todd – who’s also the network’s White House correspondent – as he offered up his analysis during a visit to Washington University this week.

Todd, who also appears on the network’s progressive cable arm, MSNBC, addressed hundreds of students and local political junkies Monday night in the university’s Graham Chapel.  

Later, he spoke briefly to the Beacon during a post-speech reception. Todd’s visit was hosted by the university’s Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy.

Todd characterized Missouri as one of the slow-growing states, many in the Midwest, that are “getting older, whiter,” and more Republican.

Missouri was the only swing state in 2008 that went Republican, favoring GOP presidential nominee John McCain over Obama. Todd concurred with numerous political experts who have said that Missouri isn’t among the states where Obama plans to compete this fall.

“Where Ohio is now, is where Missouri was in 1996 or 2000,” Todd said, referring to Ohio’s role in the spotlight as a key swing state that could be crucial in determining who becomes president.

But that could be bad news for McCaskill, who Todd said “is in serious trouble.”

If Obama’s share of the presidential vote in Missouri reaches 45 percent or less, that would make it difficult for McCaskill to win, contended Todd. It’s unclear if Obama will campaign in the state at all, added Todd, although McCaskill has said that she has asked the president to do so.

Todd said he’s heard that former President Bill Clinton is likely to campaign in Missouri on McCaskill’s behalf. First Lady Michelle Obama was in St. Louis a few weeks ago, but her aim was to raise money for her husband’s re-election effort, not for the senator.

In a brief interview, Todd took note of reports that McCaskill recently was told that she should expect little or no financial help from national Democratic groups because the party was directing its resources elsewhere. (That observation is in line with recent comments by McCaskill herself.)

If McCaskill does win, Todd added, credit is likely to go to the perceived weakness of her Republican rivals: St. Louis businessman John Brunner, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman and U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo. He didn’t mention recent polls that have given all three Republicans an edge over the senator.

McCaskill isn’t the only Senate incumbent in either party deemed in trouble. Todd predicted that veteran U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., will lose in that state’s May primary to tea party favorite, Indiana state Treasurer Richard E. Mourdock.

As for Obama, Todd predicted that the president’s likely contest with Republican Mitt Romney will hinge on an issue that lately hasn’t gotten a lot of attention: immigration.

Romney’s get-tough talk on immigration will likely cost him Hispanic voters, whoTodd said could swing the election in several Western states, including Nevada and Arizona.

Hispanic voters are so turned off by the GOP’s anti-immigration rhetoric, said Todd, that they won’t listen to Republican views on subjects where they may agree, especially on socially conservative issues like abortion and gay rights.

The rising power of the Hispanic vote already is reaching the point that Romney could win Florida and Ohio – two traditionally “must-win” states – and still lose the White House because of Democratic gains in Western states with large Hispanic populations.

Overall, he added, 2012 “feels like 2004” -- where the public was dissatisfied with the sitting president but not sure about the other party’s nominee.

In 2004, voters ended up narrowly rejecting Democratic challenger John Kerry and sticking with President George W. Bush.

But much has happened since then, Todd added. For example? “We’ve gone from a 24/7 news cycle to an hourly news cycle.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.