Page last updated at 05:29 GMT, Saturday, 6 September 2008 06:29 UK

Will Missouri choose US winner again?

Residents of the US state of Missouri have since 1904 (with one exception) voted for the winning presidential candidate. As the 2008 elections draw closer, the BBC's Robin Lustig travels there to sample the views of the population.

The Mark Twain Museum, Rolla, Missouri
Mr McCain is ahead in the polls in Missouri, but the sluggish economy is hurting residents

"If you ever plan to motor west, travel my way, take the highway that is best. Get your kicks on Route 66."

So sang Nat King Cole back in the 1940s, and this week I've been partially retracing his steps - not all the way from Chicago to Los Angeles, which was the original Route 66, but from Chicago as far as Rolla, Missouri, which according to a giant sign on the outskirts of town is "the centre of everywhere".

Only 16,000 people live in Rolla, but its claim to fame is that it is pretty much the exact population centre of the United States.

What that means is that the same number of people live between here and Canada as between here and Mexico; and the same number between here and the Pacific as between here and the Atlantic.

So it truly is the middle of middle America.

So where better to sample the views of middle Americans as the 2008 presidential election campaign enters its final phase?

That's why we gathered a group of them together at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, assembled an invited panel including two local members of Congress, and let them fire away.

The voters of Missouri are an unusually canny lot. In every single presidential election since 1904 (with just one exception), they have voted for the winning candidate. In the last two elections, they voted Bush; in the two before that, they voted Clinton.

'Strong patriots'

In some parts of the state, especially in the two major cities, St Louis and Kansas City, the Democrats are strongest. In many rural areas, the Republicans are upper most.

But whether they vote Democrat or Republican, Missouri voters tend to be conservative: strong on patriotism and traditional family values.

That might be good for John McCain - and the opinion polls are suggesting that he is currently ahead of Obama in Missouri.

Henry Sweets, curator of the Mark Twain Museum, Hannibal, Missouri
Mr Sweets says Mark Twain epitomised many of Missourians' best-known traits

But the sluggish economy is hurting people in this state as in many others - in a St Louis bar a couple of nights ago, I met two former Republican voters who will be voting Democrat this time because they agree with Barack Obama: it's time for a change.

On my way to Rolla, I passed through the town of Hannibal, on the banks of the mighty River Mississippi.

It was the childhood home of Mark Twain, who wrote the tales of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and who, according to the curator of the Mark Twain museum, Henry Sweets, epitomised many of the Missourians' best-known traits.

I also met farmer and state legislator Steve Hobbs, a Republican who believes that John McCain would make a fine president and who's a staunch supporter of a local ethanol plant which buys corn from local farmers and helps them stay in business.

Back in 1899, a Missouri congressman, Willard Vandiver, said: "I come from a country that raises corn and cotton, cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I'm from Missouri, and you have got to show me."

Which is why to this day, Missouri calls itself the "Show Me" state.

Electoral College votes

Winning post 270
Obama - Democrat
McCain - Republican
Select from the list below to view state level results.

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