Jeff Roe, a longtime Republican operative in the state, said he has never discussed pronunciation with a Missourian candidate, but advises those from out of state: “Stay safe and say Missouruh.” (Indeed, in the Senate race, most of the television ads using the soft vowel, known to linguists as a schwa, come from national political action committees.)
Mr. Nixon, a moderate Democrat, whose policy positions sometimes reflect the same try-to-please-everyone approach as his use of the state name, is favored to win a second term. And in one of the country’s most competitive Senate races, Ms. McCaskill has struggled to pull away from Mr. Akin, despite his comments about “legitimate rape.” There have been occasional, fruitless, efforts to end the debate over the state name. In 1907, a resolution introduced in the state House to establish the “only true pronunciation as that received by the native Indians” — a third way, Mih-SOO-rih — failed by voice vote. In 1970, Gov. Warren E. Hearnes announced to some fanfare that both pronunciations are correct. In 2002, as secretary of state, Matt Blunt polled visitors at the Missouri State Fair about how to say the state name, with Missouree winning in a landslide.
It remains unclear what, if any, weight voters put on hearing their preferred pronunciation of the state’s name. Many Missourians insist they couldn’t care less. But politicians rarely turn down an opportunity for an edge.
Ms. McCaskill, who was mocked years ago for recording separate campaign advertisements for different parts of the state that featured the different pronunciations, still switches back and forth. But her campaign was eager to pass off the changes as accidental, releasing a statement saying she “always” used both. “Over-thinking it just gets you into trouble, so we don’t,” the statement said. “It all comes naturally.” Governor Nixon, meanwhile, endured some gentle chiding after his inauguration, when he pledged to defend “the Constitution of the state of Missouree” and the “office of governor of the state of Missouruh.” He jokingly acknowledges that he can’t keep it straight.“When you spend as much time as Governor Nixon does in every corner of the state,” said Sam Murphey, a spokesman, “you really don’t pay much attention to this sort of thing.”
His Republican challenger, Mr. Spence, disagreed: “People can see through insincerity from about 150 yards.” He added that he would never change his “Missouree” pronunciation for political gain.
But he confessed that he only realized that his wife of 22 years said “Missouruh” after his campaign began.
“I’d never even noticed that she did that,” Mr. Spence said.