Republicans are hoping that President Bush's campaign stops in two GOP strongholds in Missouri will seal Sen. Jim Talent's re-election.
Talent's Democratic challenger, state auditor Claire McCaskill, is hoping Bush's visit on Friday will do just the opposite: motivate Democrats to cast ballots for change.
Polls show the two are in one of the tightest Senate races in the nation heading into Tuesday's election. Talent and McCaskill are even with a just handful of voters still undecided. Democrats need to gain six seats to win control of the Senate from Republicans.
Politis of presidential ties
McCaskill wants voters to think Talent is tied closely to GOP powerbrokers in Washington. On Monday, White House press secretary Tony Snow headlined a Talent fundraiser in St. Louis, and on Tuesday, Talent campaigned across southern Missouri with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
On the other hand, the Talent campaign notes that McCaskill has gotten a boost from Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, and that she has drawn support from Democratic Sens. John Kerry and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.
Bush is on a six-day campaign swing that ends on Election Day. After Missouri, he is headed to Iowa. His schedule has him appearing only in states he won in the 2004 presidential race, not in swing states where he is a more polarizing figure and might hurt GOP candidates.
The president is visiting Joplin and Springfield, which are among the most Republican parts of Missouri. In his 2002 campaign, Talent held a roughly 27,000-vote advantage over Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan in the two cities' home counties. He won statewide by about 21,000 votes out of almost 1.9 million cast.
Missouri's Senate race is intertwined with a ballot measure that would engrave the right to conduct embryonic stem cell research into the state constitution. McCaskill supports it; Talent opposes it.
McCaskill's campaign aired ads featuring ailing actor Michael J. Fox, who shakes from the effects of Parkinson's disease while urging voters to elect McCaskill because of her support for stem cell research. The ad prompted criticism from conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh.
The stem cell initiative could help determine the outcome of Missouri's Senate race. But it's unclear whether Missourians will chose their senator based on the candidate's views about the stem cell initiative.