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GOP race for Mo. Secretary of State finally heats up after quiet start

Provided photos/Flickr

Robin Carnahan’s decision to not seek a third term as Missouri Secretary of State has opened the door for seven hopefuls from four different political parties.  The contest had been relatively quiet until about two weeks ago, when the three Republican contenders began airing TV ads and stepping up their campaign appearances.  St. Louis Public Radio’s Marshall Griffin takes a look at the three GOP candidates who want to become Missouri’s next Secretary of State:

Meet Schoeller, Stouffer & Rupp

All three are political veterans who currently hold office in the General Assembly:  Shane Schoeller (R, Willard), Speaker Pro-tem of the Missouri House, and State Senators Scott Rupp (R, Wentzville) and Bill Stouffer (R, Napton).  On the campaign trail, each one is calling for photo ID’s to be required for voting, and they’re accusing Robin Carnahan, who’s leaving office, of constantly twisting the language on ballot initiatives.  At the GOP's TARGET Barbecue in Springfield on Saturday, Schoeller touted his proposal to create a special commission that would review questionable ballot language.

“It’s time we clean up ballot language," Schoeller said.  "Too many people are going to the ballot, they’re being misled, they don’t have the right information when they read the ballot summary, (the) ballot title, and I have a plan to fix that.”

Both Rupp and Stouffer oppose Schoeller’s plan to create a ballot language commission.  They say it would expand government bureaucracy, and that the better option is electing someone who won’t write misleading ballot summaries in the first place.  Schoeller also calls himself the most experienced candidate in the race, as he was a top aide for Matt Blunt when he served as Secretary of State.  Stouffer, a long-time farmer and two-term State Senator, says he's actually the more experienced candidate in the race.

“I’ve got about 25 more years of life experience than what (Rupp and Schoeller) have, and I think that’ll serve me well in that office," Stouffer said.  "I want to be Secretary of State because I want to be Secretary of State…I have no desire to have any other office, (and) it’s a lot easier to say that at 65 than it is at 40.”

Rupp, meanwhile, says his experience as both a small business owner and a lawmaker makes him the best choice for Secretary of State.

“If you’re gonna take a risk and open up a business, you don’t need government standing in your way and delaying it, so we want to make sure you can hire your employees as quickly as possible," Rupp said.  "I used to own three small businesses – one of those businesses was a financial advising firm, (and) the Secretary of State governs all the investments and securities laws.”

Attack ads hit the airwaves

The GOP campaign for Secretary of State had been relatively low-key and polite, with the only disagreements being on policy issues.  That’s changed, with both Rupp and Stouffer launching attack ads at Schoeller that accuse him of supporting Obamacare.  The accusation refers to Schoeller’s “yes” vote in the Missouri House last year for a bill that would have created a health care exchange, as part of the president’s Affordable Care Act.  That bill actually passed the House unanimously, and Schoeller says at the time it was the only option to head off federal implementation of an exchange.

Schoeller is the perceived front-runner among some political observers because he’s raised more money than both Rupp and Stouffer.  The only attack ad he’s launched so far is aimed at Carnahan.

Name recognition may be key to winning

But Schoeller’s fundraising edge may not be an advantage when it comes to statewide name recognition, which is a challenge for all three contenders.  Dave Robertson is a Political Science professor at the University of Missouri – St. Louis.

“They’re state legislators, strong in their areas, presumably, but not that well known across the state," Robertson said.  "It’s hard to say how many of those primary voters are gonna even be aware of the differences between the three candidates.”

Robertson says, though, that anybody who gets a little bit of name recognition within days of an election can quickly gain an advantage in a 3-way race.  The winner of the GOP primary for Secretary of State will face the winner of the Democratic primary between State Rep. Jason Kander (D, Kansas City), and MD Alam, an Iraq war vet and head of the national party’s Asian-American Caucus.

Audio from the TARGET BBQ in Springfield was provided by KOLR-TV 10.  For more on this year’s campaigns and elections, go to our website, BeyondNovember.org. 

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.

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