In Missouri, a perennial swing state with a deeply divided electorate, it has long been one of the politically delicate calculations a candidate can make.
The question is not what position to take on abortion, economic stimulus or health care, though those issues have all proved thorny enough. It is how to pronounce the state name: “Missouree” or “Missouruh.”
Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat who is running for re-election, has endured accusations of flip-flopping for using both phrasings at a virtual one-to-one ratio, sometimes in the same sentences, a trait that prompted a former spokesman to call him “oratorically ambidextrous.”
His opponent, Dave Spence, a Republican businessman, said he is more consistent, exclusively using the Missouree pronunciation. But the campaign has also hedged: a biographical video features his wife saying “he’s going to be a great governor for the state of Missouruh.”
Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat in one of the most closely watched Senate races, typically uses Missouree in her advertisements. But when outside conservative groups sponsored attack ads in February, her campaign responded with spots that use the other pronunciation.
The campaign of Todd Akin, the Republican congressman running against her, called using both pronunciations “cheesy” even though he has waffled himself, saying “Missouruh has a choice” when he announced his candidacy.
And the differences extend to the top of the ticket. Mitt Romney, who is favored to win Missouri, asked the crowd at a campaign event in the state during the primary race, “How many say Missouree like I do?” President Obama has favored Missouruh in his appearances.