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On the Trail, an occasional column by St. Louis Public Radio political reporter Jason Rosenbaum, takes an analytical look at politics and policy across Missouri.

On the Trail: If Lamping stands aside, plenty of Republicans are ready to stand up

John Lamping mo senator 2014
Official photo

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: When it comes to lengthy commutes, state Sen. John Lamping’s may take the cake.

The Ladue Republican represents a swath of central and eastern St. Louis County in the Missouri Senate – a distinction he earned after a very narrow victory in 2010 over Democrat Barbara Fraser. But his family lives in Kansas City, mainly because his daughter is training to become an elite gymnast.

Why is this important? Besides the possibility of a Missouri athlete nabbing a gold medal, Lamping said during a recent Politically Speaking podcast that this arrangement might stop him from running for a second term. Because he must stay in St. Louis County for his day job during the week, Lamping says he spends a lot of time crisscrossing the state.

“The decision we’re going to make as a family will happen in the fall when we know where our family’s likely to live in 2014 and 2015,” Lamping said. “If I were deciding today, my family would be living in the Kansas City area for the next few years. And that’s it.”

Lamping decision is a big one: His state Senate district is one of the few in the state that’ll be competitive next year. And the 24th District seat could be one of the few opportunities for Democrats to gain ground in the Missouri Senate, which may explain part of the enthusiasm about state Rep. Jill Schupp’s entry into the contest.

If Lamping decides not to run, Republicans have a relatively deep bench from the world of politics and business -- so deep, in fact, that it's possible there could be a primary for the race.

Worth noting on the onset: House Majority Leader John Diehl, R-Town and Country, is running for speaker of the House and is unlikely to pursue a state Senate bid. And former Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, lives just outside of the 24th District, but most likely couldn't move in time to meet a constitutional deadline.

With that in mind, here are some hypothetical Republican candidates who could match up against Schupp -- or any other Democratic opponent -- next year:

Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R-Town and Country

Pros: Wasigner represent a big chunk of the 24th District on the St. Louis County Council, including Town and Country, Chesterfield and Frontenac. An attorney and former Town and Country alderman, Wasigner sailed to re-election in recent years – albeit in a district that’s far more Republican-leaning.

With Republicans unlikely to capture the county council any time soon, the firmly GOP Senate may be an enticing option for Wasinger.

Cons: Since Wasinger is up for re-election next year, she would have to decide whether to run for a relatively safe county council seat or roll the dice in more competitive terrain. It should also be noted that Lamping defeated a member of the county council – Fraser – in 2010, which at least in that case showed that the office isn't an automatic stepping stone.

Rep. Sue Allen, R-Town and Country

Pros: Allen’s state House district also encompasses Town and Country. Historically, it has been easier for a member of the Missouri House to make the transition into the Missouri Senate. After all, 26 out of that chamber’s 34 members have some prior House experience.

Cons: Like Wasinger, Allen would be giving up a safe GOP seat – a committee chairmanship – for a tougher contest. 

Former Rep. Cole McNary, R-Chesterfield

Pros: McNary served two terms in the Missouri House before unsuccessfully challenging state Treasurer Clint Zweifel. While McNary came up short, he performed better than the Republican nominees for U.S. Senate, governor or attorney general.

It probably doesn’t hurt that his father – former St. Louis County Executive Gene McNary – is also well known in the 24th District.

Cons: McNary lost decisively to Cunningham in a race for the Monarch Fire Board. It's possible that loss may have dampened his political future.

Bill Corrigan

Pros: Lamping told the Creve Coeur Patch earlier this year that if he didn’t run again, his GOP replacement could be somebody from outside the state legislature. Republicans could have an advantage with a private sector candidate, since businesspeople frequently are able to fund their own campaigns with personal money. And they don't have to defend a voting record.

Corrigan would fit that mold. The Ladue resident's accomplished career as an attorney includes a stint as president of the Missouri Bar Association. Unlike other private sector candidates, Corrigan already ran in a competitive contest in 2010 when he squared off against St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley. While he lost that race, Corrigan put up a better performance than any other GOP contender for that office in recent years.

Cons: Corrigan would effectively have to choose between an executive office with a whole lot of power or a legislative post far from St. Louis County with potentially less influence. It's highly possible that a state Senate seat may not be an enticing prospect in 2014.

Dave (or Suzie) Spence

Pros: Spence lost decisively to Gov. Jay Nixon but may fare better in a contest without an incumbent or a big name recognition advantage. Spence could potentially throw his own money into the race.

But some observers have thrown out Spence’s wife, Suzie, as a possible candidate. Some Republicans were especially impressed by her stumping ability on the campaign trail. And with a master’s degree in education and a long record as a volunteer in regional schools, Suzie Spence could provide a fairly compelling education-centric message to voters.

Cons: Dave Spence’s “cons” are similar to Corrigan’s. After running for an executive office, would he be interested in running for a less powerful state legislative post? And it’s an open question whether Suzie Spence is at all interested in running for public office herself.

John Brunner

Pros: After falling short in last year’s GOP U.S. Senate primary, Brunner is remaining active and involved in Missouri politics. If Brunner ran for the state Senate, he could almost assuredly fund himself again. Given that some of the top political operatives in the state helped him out last year, he could have a top-flight organization for what's sure to be a tough contest.

Cons: Brunner ran for a high-profile national office, so it’s unknown whether he would want to run for a state-level legislative post. And Brunner also lost to former U.S. Rep. Todd Akin in last year's primary despite throwing millions of his money into the contest. While candidates have bounced back after disappointing showings before, Brunner will have to step up his game beyond his 2012 performance.

John Lamping

It would be presumptuous to include a list of 24th District candidates without Lamping – who could just as well decide to run for another term.

His re-election bid would not be a cakewalk. When this writer described the 24th District as a “swing” seat, Lamping disagreed and said, “it’s a Democratic district that happens to be held by a Republican.”

Lamping’s taken some fairly conservative stances on Medicaid expansion and insurance coverage for contraception that may rile some of the district’s Democratic voters. He may also get a bit of flack for filibustering a 1-cent sales tax increase for transportation, although it should be noted that Schupp voted against that measure as well.

But the fact remains that Lamping won in 2010 in a district that was much more Democratic-leaning. He’ll have the power of incumbency to tout his achievements. And after raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2010, he could likely piece together the financial resources to compete for re-election.

“I enjoy what I’m doing. I appreciate the people that I represent,” Lamping said. “But in my family, we go God, family and country in that order. And my family’s not with me in St. Louis County.”

On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.

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