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Senate District 2 race heats up, and early

  
ST. LOUIS – With more than a year until Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles, is term limited out, the race for his district already has become heated between the three Republican candidates who have thrown their hat into the ring.

There still may be time before filing even begins for the race, but the history between the three already-announced candidates already has proved that this 2014 Senate race to be contentious.

  • The candidates: Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger, and former Reps. Bob Onder and Vicki Schneider.

    Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County
    Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County
  • The district: the western portion of St. Charles County.

“This is a hugely important district because of the massive amounts of growth that’s here,” Rupp, the current seat holder, said. “You have to be able to deal with a large district that’s always growing and the issues that come with that. They’re mostly suburban [issues], like school funding and things like that.”

The district, he said, is heavily tied into the St. Louis business community because of it’s proximity to the region, so economic development issues that the state as a whole faces are important, but so are those that affect the St. Louis area.

Rupp said while he knows the candidates fairly well and has communicated with all of them, he doesn’t intend to endorse anyone in the race.

“When I first ran for state representative and John Dolan was [in office], I was so young and just starting out,” Rupp said. “If he would have endorsed someone, it would have been the favored candidate and it would’ve changed the outcome of the race. I asked him to let me compete, give me a fair fight, and he did. That’s always meant a lot to me.”

Ultimately, Rupp said he thinks all of the candidates that have come forward so far are qualified, but that it could “definitely turn personal really quick. But, we’ll have to wait and see.”

Chuck Gatschenberger
Chuck Gatschenberger

Gatschenberger

Gatschenberger announced his intentions to run a few months ago and has since assembled a well-known campaign team including Robert Knodell, Steve Tilley, Jeff Roe, Michelle Colbert, David Barklage and Logan Thompson, in order to power his effort for Rupp’s seat.

“There have been a lot of people asking me to run for a while now,” Gatschenberger said. “These last few months I thought a lot about it and it really is exactly what I want to do.”

A third-year representative, Gatschenberger said he has represented about three-fourths of the Senate district.

Previously, Gatschenberger ran against Onder in a primary for a state representative seat that Onder won.

Bob Onder
Bob Onder

Onder

A former candidate for Congress during 2008 – who came in second during a primary against Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer, Onder is a former state representative who announced his interest in running for the Senate spot a few months ago.

“I think we know how to do this and I think I’m really in touch with the concerns of the folks of the district,” Onder said. “I feel like I’ve run a big, tough campaign once, and I’m ready to do it again.”

While Onder hasn’t announced who he’s hired to work on his campaign, he said he’s assembling a “Class A team,” and added that he thinks it could be a mistake to have too many high-powered consultants.

“Missouri faces big challenges right now, mostly economic, and as a small business man, a person with a background in economics and a history of being effective in the Missouri House of Representatives, I have a unique opportunity to address those challenges,” Onder said.

Vicki Schneider
Vicki Schneider

Schneider

Announcing her candidacy well before the others, by two years, Schneider is a former state representative who said she’s hoping to continue the momentum and experience she was able to gain from her time in the House.

“When you’re a state representative, you’re only one of 163,” she said. “It’s difficult to get legislation through as one person. But when there are only 34 senators, it’s easier to have your voice and your priorities heard.”

Currently, Schneider said she’s interviewing potential staffers and comprising a list of about seven campaign events for the coming months to help raise money – two things she said she enjoys most about campaigning.

“Primaries are always interesting,” Schneider said. “One day you’re singing Kumbaya and the next day you’re fighting for the same seat.”

The contention

All of the candidates agreed that they know the race will get personal, if it hasn’t already.

As was previously stated, Onder and Gatschenberger faced off during a primary a few years back in which Onder took the lead – though neither ended up securing the seat.

“There’s a big difference between Bob and I,” Gatschenberger said. “When I get down there, I want to do my job. Bob is doing this to see what else will be available for him to run for next. This is just like when we ran against each other last time.”

A map of the Senate district (via senate.mo.gov)
A map of the Senate district (via senate.mo.gov)

Gatschenberger said he’s convinced Onder intends to use the Senate seat as a stepping-stone to a potential congressional spot down the road.

“When I go into the ring I’m not going to have gloves on,” Gatschenberger said. “I’m going to go in there with horse shoes. I’m in it to win it. I think the people of the district and Missouri deserve that.”

Onder stressed his intentions to run for Senate because he wants to be a Senator, and nothing more at the moment.

He also expressed some concern about the people Gatschenberger has hired to operate his campaign.

“Some of those guys were big forces in the push to expand Medicaid in this last session,” Onder said. “I wonder whether that telegraphs a change in position for Gatschenberger and whether that’s where [he] intends to get his money moving forward in this primary. Chuck doesn’t have the history of raising the sort of money that would be necessary to pay the sort of consultants like Roe and Barklage.”

Gatschenberger combatted Onder’s comments, saying he hired the people he did specifically for their individual talents to help him win – nothing more.

Right now there’s no bad blood between Onder and Schneider, and they both mentioned having sit-down discussions during the process so far, no matter how preliminary, about the race.

Schneider said when Gatschenberger was first elected, she helped with some of his campaign work, but when they both were in the legislature and he was Chairman of the Local Government Committee, he would “take all of [her] legislation out of bills and not let them pass.”

Schneider said she was never sure why he did that, but said the personal issues carried on through her most recent race for the O’Fallon City Council when Schneider said Gatschenberger helped send out a negative mail piece about her. She ended up losing the race.

“I believe it’s going to be me who wins this race, but if it’s not me then it’s going to be Bob Onder,” Schneider said.

Gatschenberger said when he was the committee chair, he strived to do as much as he could to work with Schneider, but was never able to do so.

“You can go through my MEC reports and see that I never spent a dime on any mailers, so I’m not really sure what else to say about that,” Gatschenberger said. “It’s just not true.”

If the pre-filing punches thrown are an indication of the way the primary will play out, the Senate District 2 race will be a contentious one to keep an eye on.