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Parson, Galloway bring competing visions to governor's race

FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020 file photo, Missouri Republican Gov. Mike Parson speaks during a campaign rally in Lees Summit, Mo. Parson is facing Missouri State Auditor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nicole Galloway in the Nov. 3, 2020, general election. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

By SUMMER BALLENTINE Associated Press

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Voters on Tuesday will choose to give Republican Gov. Mike Parson a full four years in charge of Missouri or to give the job to Democrat Nicole Galloway, in a race that shaped up as a referendum on Parson’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic and the candidates’ competing visions of the future of policing in the state.

The election, which could be Democrats’ best chance of flipping a governor’s seat this year, marks voters’ first chance to weigh in on Parson’s leadership of the state. He ascended to the governorship two years ago after his Republican predecessor, Eric Greitens, resigned under a cloud of scandal and with impeachment a possibility.

Much of the race between Parson and Galloway, the state auditor, has centered on the pandemic and crime.

Galloway has been critical of Parson’s handling of the pandemic. He allowed Missouri businesses to largely reopen in mid-June, and the number of confirmed cases rose. Meanwhile, hospitalizations began to spike in September and have remained high.

Unlike his counterparts in many states, Parson also refused to issue an order requiring people wear face masks in public to slow the spread of the virus and he has often appeared in public without one. He and his wife, who are both in their 60s, tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 23, but neither developed serious symptoms.

At a recent candidate forum in Columbia, Galloway said Parson had “failed the test of leadership.”

Parson has defended what he calls his balanced approach to the pandemic that is aimed at keeping the economy going while fighting the spread of the disease. He has pointed to Missouri’s relatively low unemployment rate compared to other states’, its quick recovery of many jobs that were lost at the outset of the pandemic, and consumer-spending levels that are at or near pre-pandemic levels.

Violent crime has risen dramatically in parts of Missouri this year, especially in the two largest cities and their suburbs. Both Kansas City and St. Louis have already had more homicides this year than last, and St. Louis is on pace to exceed its 25-year high for killings in a year.

Parson and his allies have cast Galloway as soft on crime, citing support she received from racial justice activists who have called for defunding the police.

Advocates for defunding generally mean shifting money from law enforcement to things such as mental health services and crime prevention. Galloway said she doesn’t support defunding the police but does favor providing more money for things such as education and mental health services that would address systemic problems.

Galloway, 38, has also called for “common sense” gun laws, while Parson strongly opposes any limits on guns and gun ownership. Missouri gun laws are among the most lenient in the U.S.

Galloway was the Boone County treasurer in 2015 when state Auditor Tom Schweich died. Then-Gov. Jay Nixon appointed Galloway to fill the remainder of Schweich’s term. She defeated Republican challenger Saundra McDowell by about 6 percentage points in the 2018 election.

Parson’s predecessor, Greitens, is a former Navy SEAL officer who was seen as a rising star in GOP politics when he was accused in 2018 of taking a compromising photo of a woman during an extra-marital affair about three years earlier and charged with a felony, which was later dropped.