KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson won his first full term in the office on Tuesday, defeating Democratic challenger Nicole Galloway by a solid margin.
The Associated Press called the race for Parson around 9:40 p.m. With about 28% of the precincts reporting, the Republican governor had received nearly 70% of the vote, compared with Galloway's 28%.
Parson, who took over as governor in 2018 following former Gov. Eric Greitens’ resignation, campaigned largely on his record in office over the past two years. But the COVID-19 pandemic put a central focus of the race on Parson’s response to a crisis that has left more than 3,000 Missourians dead and nearly 200,000 infected since March.
Galloway, who was hoping to make history as the first female governor in the state, criticized Parson’s decision not to issue a statewide mask mandate and questioned the robust reopening of the state with few restrictions in early May.
The governor instead stressed the importance of reopening the economy and schools, warning voters that Galloway would shut down the state again if elected.
In a full term, Parson likely will continue to leave decisions about virus response, such as school reopenings and mask mandates, to local jurisdictions. He said he believes that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to battling the virus does not work in Missouri because of disparities between the state’s rural and urban areas.
Parson, 65, had a firsthand experience with the virus when he and his wife, Teresa, were diagnosed with COVID-19 in late September. The governor remained asymptomatic while the first lady had mild symptoms. Both returned to work after quarantining separately for 10 days.
Another difference highlighted in the campaign between Parson and Galloway centered on how they would address violent crime, another major issue facing the state. This year, Kansas City and St. Louis already have surpassed their homicide totals for all of 2019, and both cities consistently rank among the most deadly in the U.S.
Parson called state lawmakers back to Jefferson City in July for a special session focused on tackling violent crime, though critics argued his proposals did not go far enough in addressing the issue. Ultimately, the GOP-controlled legislature passed only two of Parson’s proposals, including a witness protection fund for which lawmakers did not appropriate funding.
Galloway campaigned on “common sense gun safety measures,” including universal background checks and permits, and advocated for allowing local governments to enact gun control measures in the absence of legislative action in Jefferson City.
Parson, who has an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association, has made no such promises on gun control, saying in the past that there are many different opinions on how to fight crime. He supported the federal Operation LeGend initiative, which launched in Kansas City and later expanded to St. Louis, and said those types of partnerships between federal, state and local governments are key to reducing crime.
Parson, a former sheriff and U.S. Army veteran, also was vocal over the summer about his support for law enforcement when protests over police brutality and racial injustice at times turned violent. The governor urged city leaders to “get behind law enforcement” and said there was “a huge difference between peaceful protesters and criminals.”
Though Parson maintained a comfortable lead in the polls leading up to Election Day, Galloway’s campaign received strong fundraising support from groups looking to unseat the Republican governor.
Missouri has become a reliably conservative state in recent years, and Republicans will continue to control both chambers of the state legislature, as well as the governor’s office.
Galloway, 38, will remain in her post as state auditor through the rest of her four-year term. She was appointed to the office in 2015 and won a full term in 2018. She’s the only Democrat currently elected to statewide office in Missouri.
Parson, a third-generation farmer who still operates a cow and calf operation in Bolivar, previously served as a state lawmaker for 12 years before he was elected lieutenant governor in 2016.
Libertarian Rik Combs had received 1.5% of the vote and Green Party candidate Jerome Bauer less than one-half of a percent when the race was called for Parson.
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