(Updated 2:50 p.m. Tues., Feb. 11)
Missouri state Auditor Tom Schweich unveiled today his campaign team for this fall’s re-election bid, in what is seen as a message about his campaign strength for a likely bid for governor in 2016.
Schweich’s list of team members includes many of the state’s biggest names in Missouri Republican politics:
- Former U.S. Sens. John C. Danforth and Jim Talent, who will jointly serve as honorary chairmen;
- Former Ambassador Sam Fox, a Clayton business magnate and one of the most prominent Republican donors in Missouri – and in the country – who will serve as finance chairman;
- Former Ambassador George H. Walker III, a member of the Bush family, who will serve as an honorary co-chairman;
- A host of other co-chairs, including state House Speaker-elect John Diehl of Town and Country, U.S. Rep. Jason Smith of Salem, Mo., and former state Sen. Jane Cunningham of Chesterfield.
- State Sen. John Lamping, R-Frontenac, will serve as Schweich’s campaign chairman.
Danforth made clear in an interview that many on the list have more than 2014 on their minds. "Most, if not all of them, are interested in something more than him being re-elected as auditor,'' Danforth said. "He is the obvious choice as our candidate for governor."
Schweich is releasing the list just a day after a fellow Republican, former state House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, officially confirmed that she's running for governor in 2016 -- setting the stage for a likely primary battle with Schweich.
Hanaway also delivered another political jab when U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, announced she was endorsing Hanaway for governor. Wagner is a former state party chairman with close ties to many of Missouri's top Republicans.
Schweich’s campaign didn't mention 2016 or the word "governor'' in his announcement. He said instead that his 2014 team reflects “his commitment to serving the interests of hard-working Missourians by acting as taxpayers’ watchdog over state government.”
But his message was clear: Those on his list are expected to stick with Schweich should he run for governor.
Danforth said that, by necessity, Schweich needed to avoid discussing his gubernatorial aspirations until after the November election. To do otherwise, said Danforth, "would be kind of like an athlete saying, 'I can play in the World Series,' before he gets through the playoffs. That's unseemly."
Danforth said he understood why Hanaway acted earlier, but that he believed that many major Republicans would prefer Schweich, because he currently is in office and "he knows state government inside and out."
Hanaway, noted Danforth, has been out of state government for a decade.
Meanwhile, Lamping said that the fact that the Democrats have yet to find a strong candidate to challenge Schweich this fall is a signal of his political strength. Schweich's goal now, said Lamping, is "to win in a convincing manner'' this fall.
Schweich also announced that he had hired Karen Mohan Day, "and her team at Capital Enhancement are serving as fundraising consultants." Day's hiring also sends a signal because she long has been the preferred fundraising expert for major Missouri Republican candidates, and she has developed good relations with many potential donors.
Although he grew up in the St. Louis area, Schweich -- a lawyer -- has spent some of his professional career on the East Coast.
Schweich served as chief of staff to Danforth in the 1990s, when the former senator headed a federal investigation into the deadly 1993 standoff at Waco, Tex., between members of a religious cult called the Branch Davidians and federal and state law enforcement. Schweich then served as chief of staff to three U.N. ambassadors, including Danforth and John Bolton (who has headlined several fundraising events for Schweich.) Schweich later served in the State Department as the U.S. coordinator for counternarcotic and justice reform in Afghanistan; he was given the rank of ambassador in 2007 by President George W. Bush.
Schweich later returned to St. Louis and went into private practice as a lawyer.
Schweich's sudden rise in Missouri politics began just four years ago when Danforth escorted him around the state as a potential candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2010. But party leaders persuaded him to run for state auditor instead.
Now Schweich and his allies have decided that governor is a better fit for his executive skills. And he appears to be trying to persuade Hanaway to consider a different post in 2016.