ST. LOUIS -- Missouri voters have returned self-proclaimed independent Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon to the governor's office.
In campaign ads, Nixon said Missouri still has a long way to go. Nixon echoed his statement in his victory speech at the Pageant Theater in St. Louis.
"We have done a lot these last four years but we are just getting started,” Nixon said.
Nixon defeated Republican challenger Dave Spence by a margin of 54 to 43, winning a second term in the Governor's mansion in Jefferson City.
Nixon is only the fourth Missouri governor to win re-election and the first since Mel Carnahan in 1996. Nixon defeated Republican Kenny Hulshof in 2008 to win his first term.
“I will keep working to make Missouri the best place to live, work, and raise a family,” Nixon said during his victory speech.
Nixon's challenger ran a hard line on jobs and the economy, using every statistic in the book that could paint the governor as a job killer. In his first campaign for public office, Spence ran as a job-creating manufacturer with the ability to awaken an economic slumber in Missouri.
The Nixon campaign attacked Spence on earning a home economics degree at the University of Missouri and his role on the board of a St. Louis bank that took federal bailout funds.
Spence retaliated against the governor, labeling him a liberal career politician, who is too friendly to unions and trial lawyers. Nixon will continue his career of public service in Missouri, which began in 1986 when he was elected to his first term in the Senate. Nixon served four terms as Attorney General before being elected to his first term as governor in 2008. This was Spence's first run for a political office.
"Don't lose hope, because we didn't win," Spence said in his concession speech. "Because it takes courage, it takes responsibility, it takes almost everything you have to do this, but it's worth it. Because we are Missourians, and we care deeply about our state."
Nixon built a large $14 million campaign war-chest in 2012, over $2.7 million coming from lawyers and lobbyists, and millions more from unions. Spence, meanwhile, became known for the self-finance of his campaign, as he contributed $2 million of the nearly $5.3 million invested.
Nixon worked to distance himself from liberal Democrats to win what is now a largely conservative state. Many of Nixon's campaign ads labeled the registered Democrat as an "independent."
While walking on political tight ropes over the largest Republican legislative majority in state history, Nixon has refused to take key stances on Medicaid expansion and the Affordable Care Act. Nixon has said he opposes the federal health care law's individual mandate.
Nixon said we must be "a people committed to working through our small differences to find the big solutions," with attribution to Abraham Lincoln.
Nixon also claims credit for an economic development bill incentivizing automakers to sustain their operations in the state.The bill was designed to invest in a Ford plant in Claycomo and a General Motors plant in Wentzville. However, Spence said the Governor did not do enough to prevent the closure of two St.Louis area Chrysler plants in 2008 and 2009.
Nixon said he enjoys meeting workers in the state, particularly "the autoworker who focuses on making the best automobiles in the world right here in the Show-Me state.”
The United Autoworkers contributed $400,000 to Nixon's campaign and were his second largest contributor.
Nixon entered office at the peak of the 2008 recession when unemployment in Missouri was 8.9 percent. It has since decreased to 6.9 percent.
Despite a declining unemployment rate, Nixon will once again be asked to deal with economic issues and budget constraints. According to a study by the Institute of Public Policy at the University of Missouri, the state is 47th in the nation in its collection of revenue per capita and 45th in its spending. Missouri's economic growth ranked 43rd in the nation last year, according the the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Throughout the campaign, Spence criticized Nixon's' handling of economic development policy, and blamed it the failure of an economic development project in Moberly. He said Nixon owed Moberly and the state an apology. However, Nixon fired back at Spence, blaming him for mismanagement of Troubled Asset Relief Program funds at Reliance Bancshares.
Nixon's term will expire in 2016 when he will be ineligible to seek a third term as governor.
"Tonight we celebrate, and tomorrow we get back to work," Nixon said.
All other statewide incumbents won their re-election bids. Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder became the second lieutenant governor to win a third consecutive term since World War II. Democratic incumbents also won their bids -- state Treasurer Clint Zweifel and Attorney General Chris Koster.
The contest to replace Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan was too close to call in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Democratic state Rep. Jason Kander led GOP state Rep. Shane Schoeller by 4,000 votes.