After pulling off the nation's first primary defeat of a sitting governor in a decade, Democratic Auditor Claire McCaskill (search) reached out to the embattled Gov. Bob Holden (search), who returned her gesture of party unity by urging supporters to rally behind her campaign.
Come November, McCaskill will face Republican Secretary of State Matt Blunt (search), who handily turned back five lesser-known opponents to win the Republican primary Tuesday.
Missouri voters also overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional ban on gay marriage, with 71 percent favoring the amendment.
Holden's stunning loss capped a term mired in turmoil since his first day in office. He was derisively dubbed "One Term Bob" by opponents, but welcomed McCaskill's overtures after conceding defeat, and the two planned to meet Wednesday morning in St. Louis for a private unity breakfast.
"Tonight is the beginning of the Missouri comeback," McCaskill declared during a victory party in Kansas City. "Tonight is the night that, as Democrats, we can focus on hope and have confidence that we can win in November."
McCaskill and Holden's unified front comes after the two spent the campaign attacking each other with negative ads, a notion Blunt immediately seized upon.
"There are no wounds to heal for people that are inclined to support our candidacy," Blunt said. "We're ready to roll. There is a common sense that we need change."
McCaskill defeated Holden 52 percent to 45 percent — 432,282 votes to Holden's 376,906 — with 98 percent of statewide precincts reporting complete but unofficial results.
Blunt gained 533,281 votes — 88 percent — with 98 percent of precincts reporting. The son of Rep. Roy Blunt, the third-ranking House Republican, Blunt said his overwhelming primary victory illustrated his momentum.
"There is very little difference between Gov. Holden and Claire McCaskill on any issue you could identify," Blunt said. "When you're heading the wrong direction, you don't just put a new person at the helm, you alter course."
McCaskill made electability a key issue in the Democratic primary, insisting she not only stood a better chance of beating Blunt in the general election, but could help Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry to victory in this important swing state.
Kerry quickly praised for McCaskill, and they planned a joint appearance Thursday in Jefferson City.
"Claire is a strong leader who will rally women, men, Democrats, Republicans and the hundreds of thousands of independent voters in the Show Me State," Kerry said in a statement. "Together, Claire and I are going to win in Missouri come November."
The gubernatorial race was part of a full ballot that also included a primary to fill the seat of retiring Rep. Dick Gephardt. State Rep. Russ Carnahan, son of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan and former U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan, was seen as the favorite to win the Democratic primary and prevail in November in Gephardt's district, but the race was too close to call.
Holden, 54, has had a nightmarish first term, starting with a lavish, $1 million inaugural ball that he struggled to pay off. He then was forced to make millions of dollars in state budget cuts as the economy — and state revenues — plunged downward.
Republicans also won control of the Senate for the first time in a half-century during the term, and Holden achieved a rare distinction last year when lawmakers overrode three of his vetoes — matching what had been the total number of vetoes overridden in Missouri since the Civil War.
"Holden just was overcome by a lot of baggage, and it wasn't all his fault, such as the economic problems," said David Robertson, a political scientist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "He wound up with a strong opponent who accurately sensed weakness in Holden's ability to sell his program and his achievements."
In Michigan, John Ramsey, the father of slain child beauty queen Jon Benet Ramsey, lost his bid for a state House seat, and former state Sen. John Schwarz won a six-way Republican primary in the race to replace retiring Rep. Nick Smith, who beat Smith 12 years ago. Detroit voters approved by 60 percent a ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana use in the city.
In other Missouri races:
— A constitutional amendment to build a casino near the country music resort town of Branson, Mo., was defeated. Supporters of the measure, which won over about 45 percent of voters, said the casino would revive the withering vacation spot; opponents maintained it would hurt the family atmosphere.
— Former Kansas City Mayor Emanuel Cleaver defeated political newcomer and former White House fellow Jamie Metzl in the Democratic primary for the seat held by retiring Rep. Karen McCarthy, who was accused of misusing government workers and campaign dollars for her own benefit.
— GOP Sens. Kit Bond of Missouri and Sam Brownback of Kansas defeated little-known opponents to win their respective nominations. They are expected to win re-election in November.