(Updated 11:30 p.m. Mon., Feb. 10)
Eight months before the 2014 election, former Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway is announcing that she’s running for governor in 2016.
Hanaway’s decision wasn’t a surprise. But her timing was. A year ago, Hanaway had stated that she was considering such a bid. But her announcement did catch political insiders off guard because it was so early. Candidate filing has yet to begin for this fall’s elections.
By the end of Monday, Hanaway also had snagged her first high-profile endorsement: U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, a longtime friend and ally.
Hanaway, a Republican from suburban St. Louis County, appears to be trying to outmaneuver a likely GOP rival, state Auditor Tom Schweich, who is running for re-election this fall. Schweich’s allies have touted him as a likely GOP contender for governor in 2016, but he has sought to downplay such talk until after the November elections.
In a statement issued Monday, Hanaway ignored Schweich and instead targeted the likely Democratic nominee, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, who announced months ago that he intended to run for governor in 2016.
“Missourians will face a stark choice in 2016,’’ Hanaway said. “The policies of Barack Obama and Chris Koster have resulted in less economic activity, less control over our health care and, for some of our communities, a broken education system.”
“I want to lead Missouri in a different direction,’’ she continued. “I believe we can do better as a state. We can attract better jobs, we can improve the education for our children and we should have a government that respects our freedom as individuals.”
Hanaway blamed Koster for her early announcement. “We can no longer sit idly by as the defacto Democrat nominee continues to raise money and build his organization,’’ she said. “I am starting now so that we can build the largest and best grassroots campaign in Missouri history.”
Koster already has attracted much attention -- and cash -- with his campaign bank account of more than $1.59 million, as of Dec. 31. Neither he nor Schweich offered any comments Monday about Hanaway's entry into the contest.
Hanaway, 50, was first elected to the Missouri House in 1998. She served as the state’s first — and so far, only — female House speaker in 2003 and 2004. She has been credited with recruiting many of the Republican candidates who succeeded in taking over control of the state House in 2002 after 48 years of a Democratic majority.
“I am proud of the work we did when I was the speaker of the House,” Hanaway said in her statement. “We overrode the governor (then-Gov. Bob Holden, a Democrat) on laws protecting life and our second amendment.”
Hanaway lost a bid for Missouri secretary of state in 2004 to Democrat Robin Carnahan, a loss that some of Republican insiders said could be used by Hanaway’s rivals to question her political strength. Some also are privately questioning Hanaway’s position on gun rights because of her wary position during the 1999 battle over a statewide measure — which passed — that sought to bar concealed weapons. She was speaker when the General Assembly overrode that vote by enacting legislation allowing such weapons.
A lawyer, she was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as the U.S. attorney for Missouri’s eastern district, a post she held from 2005- 2009. By necessity, Hanaway stayed out of politics during those years. But she re-emerged in the last couple years and was honored by state Republicans at the party’s 2012 statewide Lincoln Days festivities.
Since 2009, she has worked in a law firm founded by former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, a Missouri GOP icon. But she left last summer to join the prominent St. Louis law firm of Husch Blackwell LLP — a hint that she might be contemplating a political move.
George Connor, head of the political science department at Missouri State University in Springfield, noted that Hanaway and Schweich are both from the St. Louis area, and close to many of the same top Republican activists and donors. A big question, he added, was which one would be viewed more favorably by the party's tea party faction.
He questioned whether Republicans would relish an expensive 2016 primary for governor. Some Republicans already are privately speculating that there may be some behind-the-scenes talks over the next year or so, in an attempt to persuade Schweich or Hanaway to run for a different office in 2016.
Monday afternoon, Wagner issued a statement saying she was backing Hanaway "because she is the only proven leader that will create an environment for good-paying jobs, increase upward mobility and restore the solemn covenant that government ought to work for the people and not against them."