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)
View All (10)

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Republican Mike Parson won the Missouri governor’s race on Tuesday, defeating Democratic state Auditor Nicole Galloway for the chance to serve a full term in the role he inherited when his predecessor resigned under a cloud of scandal two years ago.

Parson, a former state lawmaker and sheriff, campaigned on law-and-order issues heading into Tuesday’s election and fought off criticism from Galloway over his laissez faire approach to the coronavirus pandemic.

“People believe in common sense, and I think they want leaders that believe in common sense,” Parson told supporters gathered in Springfield after his Tuesday victory. “They don’t want government to tell them what they want to do every day. They want to live their lives in peace.”

Parson, who was elected lieutenant governor in 2016 and ascended to the top job two years later when Republican Gov. Eric Greitens resigned in the face of possible impeachment, has declined to require face coverings or order other restrictions and has often appeared in public without wearing a mask. Instead, he has stood by what he calls a balanced approach to the pandemic that is aimed at keeping the economy going while fighting the virus.

The governor and his wife, who are in their 60s, tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 23, but neither developed serious symptoms and he quickly resumed in-person campaigning.

Not surprisingly, the pandemic was front and center in the minds of many voters.

Taryn Perkins, a 33-year-old kindergarten teacher from the St. Louis suburb of Berkeley, said she voted for Parson largely because of his handling of the coronavirus crisis. By allowing businesses to remain open, Parson “has given people a lot of hope," she said.

“That was kind of the deciding factor, because unfortunately I have a lot of friends who are struggling to pay bills right now,” Perkins said.

Galloway's campaign focused largely on her criticism of Parson as having failed as a leader during the pandemic. She said she would require face masks if elected — a message that apparently didn't resonate with enough voters to make her the state's first female governor.

“To all the young women across Missouri who I met on the campaign trail, I want you to know there’s nothing you can’t do," Galloway said during a Tuesday concession speech in Columbia. "Tonight I may have come up short, but over the past 15 months, I have met so many young women who I know will be future governors of Missouri.”

Law and order was also a central theme of the campaign. Violent crime is up dramatically in parts of Missouri this year, especially in the two largest cities and their suburbs. St. Louis and Kansas City could see record high numbers of homicides in 2020.

Parson and his allies warned that Galloway was soft on crime and cited support she received from racial justice activists who have called for defunding the police. Galloway said she did not support defunding police but favored providing more money for things such as education and mental health services that would address systemic problems.

Galloway, 38, also called for “common sense” gun laws, while Parson strongly opposes any limits on guns. 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 Sandra McDowell by about 6 percentage points in the 2018 election.

___

Salter reported from O’Fallon.