Republican Mike Parson has won the Missouri governor's race, 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.

COLUMBIA — Republican Mike Parson has won the Missouri governor's race, 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 representative 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.

Parson is a conservative who has favored what he calls a "balanced approach" to the pandemic by allowing businesses and schools to operate while imploring Missourians to act responsibly to slow the spread of the virus. But Missouri is among several Midwestern states that have seen big increases in confirmed cases and hospitalizations, which Galloway has blamed on a "failure of leadership."

Parson was elected lieutenant governor in 2016 and ascended to the top job two years later when Republican Gov. Eric Greitens resigned amid a scandal.

Much of the governor's race focused on two topics: the coronavirus and crime.

Galloway was repeatedly critical of Parson's handling of the pandemic. He allowed Missouri to reopen in mid-June, and the number of confirmed cases rose sharply afterward. Meanwhile, hospitalizations began to spike in September and the trend continued into October.

Parson also has declined to require face coverings or order other restrictions and has often appeared in public maskless. He and his wife, both in their 60s, tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 23, but neither developed serious symptoms and he quickly resumed in-person campaigning.

At a candidate forum last month in Columbia, Galloway said Parson "failed the test of leadership."

Parson has stood by what he calls a balanced approach aimed at keeping the economy going while fighting back against the virus. He has cited success in lowering the death rate significantly since the onset of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Parson pointed to Missouri's relatively low unemployment rate compared to other states and the fact that more than four-fifths of public school students have returned to the classroom.

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.

Parson's predecessor, Greitens, is a former Navy Seal officer who was seen as a rising star in GOP politics when he was accused in 2018 of taking a compromising photo of a woman during an extra-marital affair about three years earlier and charged with a felony, which was later dropped.

Salter reported from O'Fallon.