An All-Nighter In Missouri Battleground

Missouri Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill is greeted by supporters at a campaign field office in St. Louis, Nov. 4, 2006. The stop was part of a 24-hour campaign tour of the St. Louis area.
AP Photo/Charlie Reidel
Like a student cramming for final exams, Claire McCaskill pulled an all-nighter.

The Democratic Senate candidate, scrambling for votes before Tuesday's election against Republican Sen. Jim Talent, embarked Friday night on a fast-paced tour of the St. Louis area. Her itinerary included more than 30 stops over 24 straight hours, and was to end with a rally Saturday night.

"It's the last person you expect to see at Waffle House at 3 a.m.," said Tim Yazawa, 24, who was grabbing a middle-of-the-night snack with a friend.

A more well-rested Talent was flying around the state Saturday with fellow GOP Sen. Kit Bond and other top state Republicans to rally supporters at regional party offices.

"I sense a real intensity level," Talent said as he departed from Missouri Republican Party headquarters in Jefferson City.

McCaskill's stops before midnight Friday included police stations, fire stations and the night shift change at an auto plant. In the wee hours of Saturday morning, her big blue recreational vehicle rolled to all-night diners, where patrons were often stunned to see the Senate candidate amid the burgers and shakes.

It was constant motion as McCaskill hopped on and off her RV, spending 10 to 45 minutes at each stop. Nursing a raspy voice with cough drops and hot tea, McCaskill said it was her idea to target people who work the night shift, though at many stops she was greeted by just a handful of police officers, waitresses or emergency workers.

"It may seem like we're not doing much, but these guys talk to so many people, it's the kind of thing that gets out," she said after stopping at a St. Louis police substation. "I'm trying to let people know the folks who work when the sun goes down do some of the most important work out there."

Talent also was counting on the people at his Republican rallies to encourage others to vote. After greeting about 50 people in Jefferson City, he was flying to St. Joseph, Kirksville and Hannibal.

"I feel very strongly if we will finish this race strong and execute this get-out-the vote plan that you're going to re-elect yourself a United States senator on Tuesday," Talent said before launching into a recitation of his legislative successes. He claimed he was the only candidate with "a position of strength on the war on terror."

McCaskill's 24-hour blitz began hours after Talent rallied his own base Friday in southwest Missouri with the help of President Bush. Among a handful of workers McCaskill greeted at a 911 call center in St. John was dispatcher Michelle Schill, of Lake Sherwood, who said she would vote for McCaskill because of her stance in favor of embryonic stem cell research.

"We lost a baby in our family," Schill said, declining to go into more detail.

McCaskill's visits often took people by surprise. One police officer at St. Louis' central patrol division blushed as he emerged from a restroom to see McCaskill walking down the hall. He apologized for greeting her with a wet handshake.

At St. Louis' South patrol division, Det. Darren Hill's eyes grew wide as McCaskill approached him in a back office.

"I got a call from you today — you woke me up," said a smiling Hill, 32, of St. Louis.

He was referring to a "robocall" phone message that McCaskill recorded to urge voters to come to a Sunday rally featuring Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill).

"You don't hardly see that," Hill said of McCaskill's appearance at the station. "I've never seen a candidate come and do that." He said he planned to vote for her to "shake things up" in Washington.

McCaskill's husband, Joseph Shepard, met up with the caravan around 9 p.m., joining her on visits for about two hours before heading home.

"This is our date, and a very well-chaperoned one," he said jokingly, in front of reporters sitting in close quarters on the RV.

Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, also joined the tour for a few hours as Friday turned to Saturday. He stood with McCaskill outside the Daimler Chrysler plant in Fenton to greet workers at the 11 p.m. shift change.

Crowds at the Fenton plant were the largest of the night, where dozens of union workers gave her hugs and handshakes. She returned to the same plant again for the 5 a.m. shift change.

"I must admit retail campaigning has been pretty nice out here," McCaskill remarked later, saying she got a warmer reception in the area than in rural Missouri.

As light slowly filled the sky early Saturday, her RV pulled up to the Soulard Farmer's Market to greet early risers. Later, she gave a rousing speech in North St. Louis to about 150 black supporters preparing to knock on doors in her campaign's voter mobilization effort.