POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. — Now that the legislative session has come to an end, many of those in the political world are looking ahead to 2014 and, more importantly, who will be in line at the Secretary of State’s office just eight months from now.
At the top of the ballot this year will be the State Auditor’s race. However, with filing less than a year away, no top-tier Democratic candidate has stepped up to challenge incumbent Republican Tom Schweich who is amassing a huge warchest. However, speculation picked up last week when a mistaken tweet hinted that Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Jefferson County, was considering seeking the post.
“I have known Ryan for a long time and have a great deal of confidence in him,” Mark Habbas, Legislative Director for the Missouri State Council of Firefighters, said. “If he chose to run, he would be the clear Democratic front runner and a formidable opponent to Auditor Schweich, and if elected he would be a tremendous state auditor.”
Rep. Jeremy LaFaver said he’s been a fan of McKenna for years and thinks Missouri would be well-served if he ran for auditor.
Several top-tier candidates have taken themselves out of the running, most notably State Treasurer Clint Zweifel, House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus and former Sen. Victor Callahan. There are 10 candidates who are at the core of the most speculation:
1. Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Jefferson County
He is the most talked about name amongst Democratic circles. He has more $80,000 in his account and with his prominent name in the St. Louis metro area, a decade experience in state government and his father’s lifetime work in the public, he would have the inside track about labor support.
The affable Senator would likely be able to raise the resources needed to be competitive and his vote in favor of the Tax Cut Bill would make it difficult to label McKenna as extremely liberal. Two questions seem to face him as he returns from his trade mission from Europe with Governor Nixon: First, does he want to remain in elective politics and second, can he ignore the pleas from both prominent Republicans and Democrats to run for Jefferson County Executive — a race he would likely begin as the favorite, even against the incumbent.
2. Sen. Scott Sifton, D-St. Louis County
Sifton turned the Republican seat blue when he defeated Jim Lembke in the first district in south St. Louis County. Sifton has quickly developed a reputation for being an honest broker about issues in the Senate. He has always been a successful fundraiser and would likely retain the support of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys. He is also in the middle of his term, so he would not have to give up his Senate seat to run. However, he has given every indication that he is not interested.
3. Former Rep. Judy Baker, D-Boone County
Baker is a former member of the Missouri House and has lost elections for Congress and Lieutenant Governor. She is well liked in the Democratic establishment and would be a positive face for the party. The Missouri Times is also hearing that some within the party would prefer to see a women run statewide against Schweich. We hear she doesn’t consider herself finished with Missouri politics and a long-shot campaign against an incumbent could be just what she needs to put her career on track.
4. Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Jackson County
Holsman has hit the ground running in the State Senate after winning election during November. Like Sifton, he is mid-term so he wouldn’t have to give up his seat to run. He is young and energetic — any campaign he would mount is likely to be exciting. Some say he would be the perfect candidate to begin laying out the case against Schweich for Koster to pick up during the fall.
5. Rep. John Wright, D-Boone County
When you mention rising stars in the Democratic party, Wright is a name on everyone’s tongue. Wright won a surprisingly competitive race during 2012 and did so while raising an impressive amount of money. Wright also has a great résumé and image. While 2016 is potentially a more likely year to see Wright’s name on a statewide ballot, 2014 would be an interesting trial run.
6. Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Boone County
While speaking of tremendous résumés and bright futures, Stephen Webber is another likely name. Many speculate Webber to seek the term limited seat of Sen. Kurt Schaeffer, R-Boone County. However, if he chooses to seek statewide office, the state auditor seat would be a tempting option. Webber will soon be out of law school and would have the time to devote to the position. Furthermore, his military background is likely to make him an ideal Democratic statewide candidate.
7. Tishaura Jones, St. Louis City Treasurer
Jones is one of the brightest young stars in Missouri politics. She has all of the ability to place herself in line as a potential successor to the revered Mayor Francis Slay. However, a state auditor race would not mean she would have to leave her current post at city hall. Jones would be an attractive candidate whom Schweich would have a difficult time attacking. Further, a strong showing in this race would only brighten her star.
8. Steve Stenger, St. Louis County Councilman
Stenger has gained notoriety throughout the St. Louis area for his opposition to County Executive Charlie Dooley. He has credentials as a practical, conservative Democrat. Stenger is a political talent who many are urging to run for County Executive during 2014. Could Democratic power brokers look to avoid what would be a contentious primary for County Executive by supporting his run for statewide office?
9. Barry Aycock, Farmer, New Madrid County
Aycock flirted with running for Congress in the 8th District special election but unfortunately decided against running. Since that time, he has been everywhere in Democratic politics, evening penning an anti-Right to Work editorial that drew return fire from Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder. Aycock could likely compete with Schweich’s fundraising prowess and could be the ambassador to rural Missouri that seems to be the standard path to success for statewide victors.
10. Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, D-Jackson County
LaFaver has quickly made a reputation for himself as an extremely capable operator in the House. He has already risen to the head of Democratic House campaign committee. Any offer of support that would tempt LaFaver to leave a promising career in the House would have to be a very large one. While he is very unlikely to run during 2014, this will likely not be the last list of this sort that his name appears on.
Other potential candidates include Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, who many speculate is looking to run statewide during 2016. Several high-profile, potential state representatives include:
- Rep. Vicki Englund, who would likely be a female candidate that provides a stark contract to Schweich
- Rep. Courtney Curtis, an African American House member with a background in the technology industry, and
- Rep. Keith English, a pro-gun, pro-life Democrat whose straight talk would certainly make for an interesting race.
One wild card that exists is Ellisville Mayor Adam Paul. We are not entirely sure of his party affiliation, but his enemies in Ellisville made him a statewide name with a very compelling story.
The Democrats’ dream candidate that they could never recruit? St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.
Scott Faughn is the publisher of The Missouri Times, owner of the Clayton Times in Clayton, Mo; SEMO Times in Poplar Bluff, Mo.; and host of the only statewide political television show, This Week in Missouri Politics.