McCain, who has a small lead in recent Missouri polls, is relying entirely on national media coverage and a few select interviews with local Missouri TV news anchors to get his message out. Charles Black, a senior advisor for the campaign, said McCain had had offices in Missouri and other Super Tuesday states but had to close them last year because of financial problems.
Each of the three leading Republican candidates has made an appearance in neighboring St. Louis to get on TV, but each has been undermined by other events. Huckabee stopped in St. Louis last week as results from the Florida primary dominated the news, McCain's rally Friday took place as a large snowstorm grabbed widespread attention and Romney's visit Sunday was up against the Super Bowl.
Republicans here say they have less information about the contenders, and a majority of more than 50 people interviewed last week said they had yet to decide on a candidate.
At the Cracker Barrel in St. Charles, a group of diners discussed the relative merits of Romney and McCain. After Wednesday night Bible study at Ridgecrest Baptist Church, attendees said they were debating whether to stick with Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist minister, or switch to Romney, who appears to have a better chance of winning the nomination.
At the Bob Evans next to Mid Rivers Mall in St. Peters, tractor driver J.B. Allman, 80, pored over the election coverage in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a newspaper whose editorial line he doesn't always trust. "What do you know about these guys?" he asked, to no one in particular.
Even top local Republicans are undecided. "I've never come this close to an election without knowing who I'm going to vote for," said county Republican Chairman Jon Bennett.
At the Pachyderm Club meeting Friday, Bennett and others discussed the candidates, spending considerable time on their weak points. Members seemed to be moving, grudgingly, in McCain's direction, though there were holdouts.
Bernie McCann, a retired high school political science teacher who is president of the club, backs Romney. He thinks the former governor's conversion to more conservative positions on social issues is genuine.
"I believe that you can be converted, like St. Paul," McCann said.
Bob Osborn, a retired St. Louis city employee who favors McCain, shook his head in response. "St. Paul was converted," he said, "but he didn't immediately run to be Jesus."