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Ashcroft opens up about his decision not to run for US Senate

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — When U.S. Senator Roy Blunt announced his retirement, the entire Republican establishment began to line up behind Jay Ashcroft. However, when the opportunity came, he and his wife Katie prayed for direction. Ultimately, they chose to look for a phone call as a sign to guide them to the right decision. It didn’t come, and they are both at peace about it. 

Ashcroft, Missouri’s Republican secretary of state, didn’t get any advanced notice that Blunt would make the decision not to seek re-election to his U.S. Senate seat in 2024. But it didn’t take long before his phone began to “ring off the wall” with texts and calls from people encouraging him to make a bid for the open seat. 

Ashcroft’s story — the one about how he decided whether to run for the seat — closely mirrors that of Gideon from the Bible. In the Old Testament, Gideon overcame his own doubt by testing God, asking him to provide him a sign of his will. He would become the greatest judge of Israel and revered as a man of faith in the New Testament. 

In an interview with The Missouri Times last week, Ashcroft also said he doesn’t believe he will run for secretary of state again. So what does that mean for a potential gubernatorial run? 

We talked to the Ashcrofts about the decision not to run for the U.S. Senate seat — and how he chose other political opportunities that came his way. Below is a conversation between The Missouri Times publisher Scott Faughn (SF), Jay Ashcroft (JA), and Katie Ashcroft (KA). The questions and responses are below, edited for clarity.

U.S. Senate decision

SF: When did you realize Senator Blunt was not going to run for re-election? 

JA: I didn’t have any sort of early notice. I received a text from my wife about his video. 

I actually thought with a 50-50 Senate, Senator Blunt was someone who could actually get things done. And with the Democrats trying to force through their stuff, he was one who forged relationships who could say, “Hey, wait a minute. This wouldn’t be good for Missourians.” I didn’t see it coming at all. 

SF: You had to know people were going to come calling, asking Jay to run.

KA: When you look at the last election results [for secretary of state], yeah, I thought his name would be out there. And his phone pretty much started ringing off the wall after Blunt’s announcement was made. 

JA: I didn’t realize at first what an honor it was to be asked. I have text messages on my phone where I wished other people good luck. I said, “2022 is going to be a blast, good luck.” I didn’t even think about myself, but one of the names pretty prominently named to be running, I texted him. Then I thought, “Oh, wait a minute. I should think about me.” I was a little bit clueless. 

SF: Who calls you first and says, “You’re the guy. You need to do this.” Who was that first call that was really substantial that made you think this was real? 

JA: At first, it was just a lot of people texting. But it was actually my campaign manager, Miles Ross, who said, “You could actually do this.” 

SF: So you finally get the call and come home. What happened next? 

JA: I didn’t tell Katie I had texted someone else good luck first. But there was a little bump in the road here. I couldn’t come home and talk to her about it because we had dinner guests. I had invited the speaker, pro tem, floor leader, and Rep. Dan Shaul to come over. We were coming up on the legislative spring break, so I said let’s grill some steaks and not talk politics. Then, of course, everyone wants to talk about this. They had some fun with it and finally said, “We have to go, I think Jay has something he needs to talk to Katie about.” 

KA: Your phone was still ringing. At one point, didn’t you just leave your phone in another room for about an hour?

SF: Did other U.S. senators call you and ask you to run? 

JA: Not at the time. None of them called me until after I had made my decision. I had talked to Senator Blunt, but I just wanted to congratulate him on his service and thank him for his service. I didn’t talk to as many people as most people think you probably should have. I came down to the idea that I just didn’t know what to do. 

There’s a recurring theme here about my inability to hear God, asking God to do something or not to do something. I prayed to him and said, “I don’t want to go to Washington. I love where I am, I think I have the best staff of anyone statewide. I love what I get to do here.” 

We prayed that night, and I said, “God, I don’t want to do this. But this may be where you say, ‘Hey dingbat, this is where you ought to go, and it will work out.’ I told God if he wanted me to do this, I needed a certain political person to call me. I said, “If they call me tomorrow, I will run. If they don’t call me, I won’t run.” They didn’t call. Now, 9 o’clock the next morning, they did call. But it wasn’t the day before like I had told God. 

For me, the decision not to run was easy. I put it before God, and he’s responsible for it. 

SF: Katie, he said if this call comes, I’ll take it. Did you believe him? 

KA: I did. You put that before God knowing that he can make this happen, that he hears you. I did not especially want to move to Washington, D.C. We just moved our kids three years ago to Jefferson City, and it takes a while to get kids settled in. He has a great team working with at the Secretary of State’s Office, and it takes time to build a team. 

JA: I was worried, if I go to Washington, D.C., what happens to those people? 

KA: I had concerns, but it was a consequential decision. We need good leadership. It’s a pivotal time for our country, and we had to take a long, hard look at it. If that call came, I wouldn’t have fought it. … I think having come through two statewide races, I felt more prepared. 

JA: The funny thing to me was once we didn’t get the call, then it was like, how early can we tell people? We’re not doing it, you don’t have to call us, go find somebody else. 

SF: You put out a statement. Did you write that yourself? 

JA: Just about with anything I do in politics, I call up my dad. It’s always nice to talk to someone who has been there. I talked to mom because she has a little bit of a different point of view. 

SF: The next day, you wake up and you know what you’re going to do. The pressure is off. At one time does the statement come out? And was it posted before the call came?

JA: The call came an hour, hour and a half before the statement came out. I looked at it as confirmation. If you say, “If they call me, I’m going to run; if they don’t call me, I won’t” and then they never call you, you wonder if God heard me or not. But the way I looked at it, it was God saying, “I heard you. They just called you today.” 

SF: Did they know you were going to say no?

JA: No, but I told them at the time. 

SF: Do you have any regrets about your decision?

JA: No. 

Governor 

SF: There are people who will read this and think that all of the reasons that you said you didn’t do this are actually all reasons that you would run for Governor. 

JA: I think that anybody who is given the opportunity to be governor of Missouri should be thrilled and should take it. I’m not going to lie to you and say I’m hoping my eight-year political career ends when I’m done being secretary of state.

I don’t think I’ll run for secretary of state again. I think it’s good to have new people with new ideas or different points of view do that. 

Running for State Senate

SF: When you first decided to run for state Senate, what was that conversation like? 

JA: We had no clue what we were doing. My biggest memories of politics, of the family, was when dad was an incumbent — when he was in the Senate; when he was governor. That’s a little bit different than running for a state Senate seat in a 55-45 Democratic district. 

My dad ran his first race for Congress because the Republicans were working to clear the primary so it would just be one candidate, and he thought that was wrong; there ought to be at least two candidates. He thought, in Russia, there’s one candidate, in the United States, you get a choice. 

KA: Let me just say, I don’t think we knew how hard it would be starting out, but I think you had a better idea having grown up with your father in politics. 

SF: How did the idea of running for state Senate come about?

JA: I was at a fundraiser, and the Republican Party was there asking everybody to run for something. And they asked me if I would consider running for anything, and like any reasonable person, I said, “Heck no, I’m getting out of here.” 

But it kind of stuck with me. I wondered who was running and what’s going on. There was already an announced candidate for the state Senate race. We prayed about it, and as we were going back-and-forth on it, Katie said, “Look, you should run because if you don’t, you’re always going to wonder what would have happened if you did run.” 

SF: Katie, how did you encourage him to run? 

KA: Jay has had an interest in politics for as long as I can remember. Even when we were first married, he would be up until midnight pulling down election results from the secretary of state’s website. Just the way he expressed interest, I kind of knew he would like to try it. 

We like to tell a story that Jay called his mother and told her that he would like to run for this, and she encouraged him and said he would be great at it but then asked to talk to his wife. And she said to me, “Are you crazy? What are you thinking, letting him get into this?” But I really did think he would regret it if he didn’t try it. 

(Editor’s note: Ashcroft lost the SD 24 seat in 2014 by a narrow margin to Sen. Jill Schupp.)

Secretary of state

SF: So you decide you want to run for secretary of state. It is a long way from your house to Pineville or Tarkio. What made you decide to say I want to run for the whole state? 

JA: Yeah, but I like to get out. 

I came home and said, “OK, I’m a loser [following the Senate race].” We didn’t have everything finished up from a bill payment standard within 30 days of the election. Under Missouri statute, you’re required to close your committee within 30 days after you lose an election. Just being us and knowing we hadn’t gotten all the invoices back from certain stuff, we started a new committee and closed the old one because the last thing I wanted to do was violate the law. When we did that, we were seriously not thinking of running. 

We then had people coming to us and suggesting different things, from secretary of state to another Senate bid. There were about four options that were brought to us. 

We felt like God had wanted us to run that state Senate race. When it came to the options people were suggesting to us, Katie and I just started praying. For each one of the options, we put something in the way: We’re going to support this person, or I can’t do that unless this happens. And we said, “God, if that impediment is there, we’re not going to do it. If you want us to run for something, you have to remove that impediment.”

SF: When you say “God wanted me to do something,” some people won’t understand,  what does that mean exactly? 

JA: I did not have the smokey handwriting on the wall. I didn’t hear an audible voice. But what we prayed was, “God, I need your direction, and I’m not good at listening to you, and when I hear you, I’m not good at following you.” We tried to set up circumstances that we had no control over but that God could change. 

There’s a Biblical story about Gideon praying and laying out a mat and saying, “God if you want me to do this, make the mat wet.” Well, some people said it was wet because of the dew. So the next day, Gideon said, “If you want me to do it, it needs to be dry.” 

That’s what we did because I believe in God, and I believe he’s in charge of these things. If I do what God wants me to do, I might not end up where I expect, like the state Senate race, but I’ll end up where I should be and need to be, and he’ll provide it. 

With secretary of state, I had agreed with another gentleman that I would not run if he ran. I called up this gentleman, and said, “I really wanted to run but it’s your decision, and I’ll keep my word.” But one of us needed to get in the race because I didn’t want it to be a situation where we had seven or eight Republicans jumping into the race. I left him a message, and he didn’t call me back until the next day and said, “I’ll have to think about it. I’m not sure what I’m going to do.” 

I went to bed assuming he would announce and my non-political career was already over. He called me back that next morning and said, “Look, I’m not ready to make a decision, but you’re right one of us needs to do it, so jump in.” This was a politico, this was an elected official, this was someone who would normally look at a seat like this and say, “This is an excellent opportunity.” This never would have happened if I hadn’t run for the state Senate. And it never would have happened if I not only ran but lost. 

People can say what they want, but God works and God does speak and acts in ways.

SF: What was the feeling like when the other guy told you to jump in?

JA: It was a rush of emotion. I had never run statewide before, and I knew the effort that went into running for state Senate, and I knew what it felt like to lose. And now I was getting the opportunity to lose in front of the entire state, but it was also a great opportunity to try to make a difference. 

SF: Katie, were you ready to run for secretary of state? 

KA: I’m not sure I was ready for it, but it seemed like it was such a clear response. 

JA: It’s what we had been praying for for months, and here it is the day before we were set to announce, and the impediment was removed. 

The Ashcroft background

SF: Are you an attorney or are you an engineer? 

JA: Both, but I’ve been an engineer longer.

SF: But if you had to pick just one? 

JA: I’m an engineer.

KA: Engineer! 

JA: I have on many occasions had my wife kind of look at me and kind of tilt her head almost 90 degrees and shake it and say, “You’re such an engineer” and walk away. 

SF: What’s something that stuck out to you about your first campaign? 

JA: My favorite story is — and maybe this just shows I was not fit for the district — I was knocking doors, and someone answered and said, “Oh, Ashcroft. I remember when your uncle died.” My uncle died in a car accident in the 90s. He said, “It was such a tragedy. I just wish it had been your dad.” 

I said, “Oh, I’ll put you down as a maybe.”

That’s been my life with my last name. There have been people where that’s been a benefit and that’s been a detraction. And that happens to everybody. None of us are born with equal footing. It was an eye-opening experience. 

SF: Do you think an engineer is better suited for the executive branch, where a lawyer might be better suited for a legislative body? 

JA: I do. I may not have enough patience to be a legislator. The engineer in me always wants to say, “Hey look, here are all the numbers. Here’s the way to do it.” And that doesn’t work in the legislature. We’ve seen people that are legislators who have gotten into the executive branch or vice versa and don’t function.