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In GOP contest for state auditor, Icet and Schweich both tap into anti-Obama mood

Based on their ads and major campaign events, one might think that Republicans Tom Schweich and Allen Icet were running for a post in Washington instead of state auditor in Jefferson City.

The two are vying on Aug. 3 for the GOP nomination for state auditor, and the right to challenge Democratic incumbent Susan Montee in November. But for the moment, she's not the focus of either potential rival.

Schweich, a local lawyer who worked in President George W. Bush's administration, is featured with several national figures -- including former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton and former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft -- in his TV spot now running around the state.

A radio ad portrays one of Schweich's old Bush jobs as "charged with irradicating the Taliban drug trade." (Click here to view and hear them.)

Icet, a state representative from Wildwood and the chairman of the state House Budget Committee, has gone even further. He's now running a radio spot that a spokesman describes as "an open letter" -- and not a complimentary one -- to President Barack Obama.

Icet's latest robo-call refers to Revolutionary War hero Patrick Henry, as Icet blasts policies in Washington and promises to "work hard to reverse the harmful policies..."

Icet's first TV spot also featured supportive words from "Joe the Plumber," the man who became an anti-spending and anti-tax symbol for the 2008 presidential campaign of Republican nominee John McCain. The Plumber (real name, Samuel J. Wurzelbacher) also joined Icet for a statewide campaign swing earlier this summer, and is cited in the candidate's robo-calls now going out to thousands of potential voters. (Click here to view the ad.)

Meanwhile, Schweich's major fundraising events over the past year have featured such national figures as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a possible 2012 candidate for president, and Bolton, Schweich's former boss. There's also Schweich's still-talked-about rock video this spring that offered a riff on the national GOP mantra to "give me back my freedom."

And both Schweich and Icet have made a point of reaching out to Tea Party activists, who are aiming their ire primarily at Washington and the Obama administration.

Tom Schweich is a lawyer whose career has focused on corporate finance and international law enforcement.  He had a key role in the federal probe of the Waco incident.

Schweich disagrees with the premise that his campaign has a national focus. Schweich says he's brought up the Washington aspects of his career primarily to emphasize his experience dealing with audits and fiscal matters. His robo-calls don't mention his jobs in the national government, instead portraying him as an outsider to state government.

But during an appearance Sunday at a Republican picnic in St. Louis, Schweich got his strongest applause when he wove in a couple national references. He noted that he has written pieces published in major newspapers that were critical of the president. "I share your values on Obama," Schweich said.

Schweich then drew cheers when he added, "I've got my Afghanistan boots on because I'm doing a lot of walking today."

Icet and spokesman Steve Walsh say the GOP state auditor contest definitely has a national flavor to it -- and they add that there's a legitimate reason for it.

Potential Republican voters in Missouri, in line with their GOP counterparts elsewhere, are angry with the Democrats running Washington, Walsh said. He added that it makes sense for the GOP auditor candidates to tap into that unrest.

Icet said that the heightened interest in politics statewide "is driven by what's going on in Washington'' and has "trickled down to the state level."

Said Walsh: "What's happening nationally is playing out in the auditor's race."

In particular, the Icet camp points to Proposition C -- the only statewide ballot issue before Missouri voters on Aug. 3. It seeks to allow Missouri to opt out of some of the mandates in the new federal health-care law.

Backers and critics agree that Proposition C, at minimum, is aimed at making a political point because it would be the first statewide vote in the country over the new federal health-care law.

Since Proposition C was spawned by Republicans, and is particularly popular with Republicans, Walsh said that Icet and Schweich should be expected to make clear where they stand on what is seen as a state referendum on a national issue. (Both support Prop C.)

Icet also has sought to tie the auditor's contest to the national controversy over illegal immigration, by declaring that he will focus on making sure that no Missouri tax dollars are spent on illegal immigrants. In response, Schweich and Icet have tangled over whose record is stronger in challenging illegal immigration. (Click here for the Beacon's coverage of their skirmish.)

The latest independent poll, conducted for the Post-Dispatch, indicated the two were neck-and-neck among likely Republican voters, with a huge bloc still undecided.

So far, their back-and-forth hasn't touched on what has historically been one of the state auditor's biggest attractions -- as a political stepping stone.

Three former or current U.S. senators from Missouri -- Ashcroft, fellow Republican Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., and Democrat Claire McCaskill -- all got their statewide starts as state auditors.

Both Contend That Experience Counts

Ironically, Schweich and Icet are using the same issue -- experience -- to highlight their chief differences as they head into their race's home stretch.

Sunday afternoon found both candidates in Carondelet Park for the annual picnic held by the city of St. Louis' Republican Central Committee. In their brief addresses to the crowd, Icet emphasized his state budget-cutting experience while Schweich cited his experience in corporate finance and international law enforcement.

Icet, 53, is a past member and president of the Rockwood School Board. He was elected to the Missouri House in 2002 as part of the GOP wave that took control of the chamber for the first time in decades.

Icet has chaired the House Budget Committee since 2005, and also cites his membership on special legislative panels set up to oversee the state's changes to the Medicaid program for the poor, and to monitor the billions of dollars in federal stimulus funds awarded to the state.

Icet says his experience in dealing with government finances, on a local and state level, make him well suited to head the state's top office for auditing state and local governments and agencies. (Click here to read his official bio, and here for his kick-off speech from last summer.)

Schweich, 49, is making his first run for public office. A lawyer for more than two decades, his career has focused on corporate finance, internal audits and fiscal management. He has authored several well-known books on the topics.

Schweich was tapped in 1999 by former U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo., to be his chief of staff when Danforth headed up the federal probe of the 1993 confrontation between the FBI and the Branch Davidians at Waco.

In 2004, Schweich was hired as Bolton's chief of staff at the U.N., and soon after became the State Department's "second-ranking international law enforcement official." By 2007, Schweich was given an ambassador-level position overseeing U.S. anti-drug activities in Afghanistan.

Schweich says his experience with corporate audits and national law enforcement -- and his lack of experience in Jefferson City -- will give him the knowledge and independence that a state auditor needs. (Click here to read his official bio, and here for his kick-off address.)

Initially, Danforth and several other prominent Republicans encouraged Schweich to run for the U.S. Senate, challenging U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Springfield. But Schweich ended up running for state auditor instead, announcing just weeks after Icet had jumped in.

The Schweich/Icet battle has split Missouri GOP ranks. Schweich has the support of Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, Danforth and Ashcroft. Icet has been endorsed by close to 90 Republicans in the Missouri House and Senate.

Icet had initially been portrayed as the favorite of GOP social conservatives. But Missouri Right to Life, the state's largest anti-abortion group, has opted to endorse both Icet and Schweich.

Schweich's higher-profile GOP ties have helped him amass a significant financial edge over Icet. The latest campaign-finance reports showed Schweich has raised $1.1 million, compared to $430,400 for Icet. Schweich also had more than three times as much in the bank, heading into the final weeks of their contest.

But Icet contends that money won't be the determining factor. He said Sunday that he believed he had stronger grassroots support, in part because of the nation tie-in. Nodding to the energized Republicans gathered at Sunday's city GOP picnic, Icet said, "This is where the volunteer efforts become important."

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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