Coronavirus throws a wrench into Missouri governor’s race between Parson and Galloway

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COLUMBIA, Mo. — The coronavirus pandemic is hijacking the Missouri governor’s race, stalling Gov. Mike Parson’s campaign Friday after he tested positive this week and taking center stage in his Democratic challenger’s pitch to voters.

Parson’s wife on Wednesday tested positive for the coronavirus after experiencing mild symptoms. The governor also tested positive later that day, although he has been asymptomatic.

His diagnosis led his campaign to cancel upcoming events and postpone a Friday debate against his Democratic opponent, Auditor Nicole Galloway.

On Wednesday, Galloway in a statement said Parson’s illness is “a reminder that it can reach anyone, anywhere, and that this pandemic is not over.” She’s trying to appeal to voters who think the governor is not doing enough to lead the state through the pandemic, as Missouri has some of the nation’s highest rates of infection.

“The administration should have done more (and) should be doing more to protect Missourians, which is why I put forward a comprehensive plan to mitigate the spread and recovery from this pandemic,” she said during a press call with reporters earlier Wednesday, before Parson’s test results were made public.

Her 11-point plan includes a statewide mask rule and limits on when public schools can hold in-person classes based on the rate of positive cases in the community.

In July, she urged people to wear face masks using the social media tag #MaskUpMo and criticized Parson over photos of him mask-less with supporters. She called that a “stunning failure of leadership.”

But Parson is betting that a majority of people in the Republican-leaning state share his opposition to government-imposed shutdowns and other strict, top-down public health rules.

In July, speaking without a mask at a Missouri Cattlemen’s Association steak fry in Sedalia, Parson told supporters that “You don’t need government to tell you to wear a dang mask.”

Parson has taken a more hands-off approach to addressing the virus, leaving decisions on mask requirements, school shutdowns and other restrictions to local officials. He’s stressed personal responsibility; urging people to wash their hands regularly and wear a mask if they can’t stay 6 feet apart, even though that’s not required.

“Take care of yourselves,” Parson said in a Wednesday video reassuring Missourians that he’s feeling well despite testing positive for COVID-19. “Do the best you can to protect yourselves: social distancing, wear a mask, personal hygiene.”

His administration reiterated its opposition to a statewide mask order after the governor tested positive, despite recommendations from the White House Coronavirus Task Force that face masks be required in the state as cases rise.

Political scientist Tom Ringenberg of Rockhurst University in Kansas City said that kind of resistance to government mandates aligns with Missouri’s “libertarian streak.”

“Missourians are taking it seriously, but some of the business closings, mask mandates (and) school closings are a bridge too far maybe at this late point in 2020 for a lot of Missourians,” he said. “It’s a tough line to walk.”

Parson is campaigning on what he has done to fight the virus, which includes mobilizing the National Guard to help with testing and deliveries of medicine and shutting down the state in April to slow the spread of the virus.

Political scientist Jeremy Walling, of Southeast Missouri State University in the state’s southeastern Bootheel region, said if anything, some of Parson’s Republican base might think he went too far in locking down the state in April.

“He’s probably reflecting a majority attitude, more than I think he’s directing that attitude,” Walling said.

The state health department on Friday announced 1,987 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 42 additional deaths from the disease caused by the coronavirus, a spike in deaths that officials attributed to a delay in reporting death certificate data. All told, the state has reported 120,289 confirmed cases and 1,994 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

A little more than 10,000 new cases were confirmed in Missouri in the past week alone, according to an Associated Press analysis of Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 tracking project data updated Thursday. That’s an average about 1,430 new cases per day.

Mark and Darlene Bradshaw, of the St. Louis suburb of Florissant, have differing views about how Parson has handled the state’s response to the pandemic. Mark gives him high marks. Darlene doesn’t.

Mark, a 62-year-old manufacturing worker, said he’s leaning toward voting for Parson because he’s done a “decent” job overall, including his handling of the coronavirus.

“They’ve all been put in a bad spot,” Mark said. “Nobody knows how to handle it. I think he’s done all right.”

Darlene, 61, who is retired, said she’s “a little bit the opposite” of her husband in evaluating Parson’s COVID-19 response.

“I thought he should have mandated we all wear masks, and not leave it up to the individual cities and counties,” Darlene said.

The election is Nov. 3.

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