ST. LOUIS — As the image of President Barack Obama flitted briefly across television screens for the first time last night, the courtyard of a St. Louis bar erupted in cheers.
At the sight of Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger, the response died down, morphing into a chorus of, “Oh.”
In 2008, Missouri was a hotly contested swing state where Sen. John McCain triumphed by only a few thousand votes. Both presidential candidates — and vice presidential candidates — made multiple visits to the state.
But, in 2012, for the first time, the outcome of the presidential race in Missouri is certain. Neither presidential campaign has spent time in the Show-Me State, where voters are expected to support Romney, the vast red precincts outside St. Louis and Kansas City expected to outweigh it’s Democratic-leaning core. For Democrats here, it’s a depressing departure from the sense, in 2008, that Missouri was moving their way; instead, the state was a hub of the Tea Party reaction to Obama, and of the grassroots conservative revival that followed.
Nevertheless, the crowd at The Royale was, at least for a night, in a swing state of mind. The bar is watering hole for local Democrats that hosted Sen. Claire McCaskill on Saturday (she gave a speech atop a stack of boxes) and, during the last presidential debate, outgoing Rep. Russ Carnahan. On a wall, Obama and Romney bumper stickers were displayed side-by-side, but the latter had been defaced: “Romney for President of Bermuda,” it read.
In an election that has seen voters become disenchanted with Obama, it was a small slice of 2008.
The crowd applauded Obama’s zingers. They booed when Romney interrupted. And when Obama lauded the merits of free enterprise, one man in the back pretended to vomit, drawing laughter from others.
Someone standing on the street might have assumed the Cardinals were playing the San Francisco Giants for a World Series berth — but these fans were rooting for the president, not Yadier Molina. And they thought they won.
But, at the end of the night, as bar patrons turned their attention back from the screen to their pints of Schlafly, a few noted that it wasn’t quite 2008.
“There was a lot more enthusiasm” then, said Ashley Ray, 27, who is pursuing a masters degree.
Brendon Hamacher, 23, and Bart Saracino, 27, sat around a fire pit with a few friends and discussed how St. Louis had changed in the interim.
“The worst part about living in Missouri is that St. Louis and Kansas City always go blue, and the rest goes red,” Hamacher said. “I guess it’s something I’ve bee able to come to terms with.”
Even the cities aren’t as reliably Democratic as they were, Saracino said.
“There used to be super union support, and I think that’s just fading,” he said.
So, how did it feel to have relinquished status as a swing state?
“It’s probably the same way a Republican feels in Illinois,” Saracino said.
“It’s annoying,” Hamacher said. “They always care about Florida, and Ohio, and random states, and you think, that’s not fair.”
He paused for a beat. “But they get all of the ads, too, so I guess it’s OK.”