Missouri Auditor's Race: Is Tom Schweich Actually Running For Governor?
The only statewide political office up for grabs in Missouri this year doesn't appear to be anywhere near up for grabs.
State Auditor Tom Schweich, a Republican, is facing only token opposition from the Libertarian and Constitution parties, and the Democrats are not fielding a challenger. This contest may serve more as a campaign for Schweich's next political goal:
Libertarian nominee Sean O'Toole brought it up during a sit-down interview in September, saying that Tom Schweich is actually running for governor.
"Well, he raised over $300,000 (during the second) quarter" of 2014, O'Toole said, who also observed that the co-chairs of Schweich's campaign are former U.S. Sens. Jim Talent and John Danforth.
O'Toole said that was a lot of firepower to put up against him and the Constitution Party candidate.
The same question was raised during the 2010 auditor's race by the then incumbent, Susan Montee, a Democrat. Schweich pledged at the time that, if elected, he would serve a full four-year term as state auditor. He won the contest and he kept that promise, but he's not renewing it this time around.
"All I'll say is that when it comes to future elections, the party needs to run the strongest candidate, and no one will really know the answer to that question until after November," Schweich said.
Most political observers in Missouri are expecting Schweich to seek the Republican nomination for governor in 2016. If he does, it would set up a major battle within the state GOP, as former House Speaker and U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway has already tossed her hat in the ring for the GOP nomination for governor. For now, Schweich says he's focused on winning a second term as state auditor.
"You take elections one at a time… It's the worst political mistake somebody can make to be talking about future elections when you haven't won the one that's coming up," Schweich said. "So I've done what I should do: I'm releasing a lot of audits, I'm campaigning very hard for re-election. Right now, I'm focused entirely on that election."
Despite having no major-party challenger, Schweich has been making campaign stops across Missouri, and broadcast ads have already begun airing. He's also been sending out campaign statements via Twitter for several weeks. The Missouri Ethics Commission's website shows that he had raised $1.65 million as of early August. His campaign committee, Friends of Tom Schweich, says it raised $234,736 during the third quarter of this year, and had $1.2 million on hand as of Sept. 30.
Meanwhile, another candidate is officially challenging Tom Schweich. Constitution Party nominee Rodney Farthing is a retired pastor who lives in the small town of Salem and currently works for a prison ministry. He says he wants to see a so-called third party "get into the mix."
"I am not running a horribly aggressive or expensive campaign, obviously," Farthing said, "but I hope we can get our ideas and principles out there for the public (to see), in hopes of eventually seeing the stronghold of the Republicans and Democrats pretty much monopolizing various political offices broken."
Both Farthing and O'Toole have suggested that some audits conducted under Schweich were motivated by party politics; they cited, for example, a recent audit critical of Gov. Jay Nixon's practice of withholding money from the state budget. A spokesman for Schweich disagrees, saying that he has given both good and bad ratings to Republicans and Democrats alike.
The Missouri Democratic Party declined to respond to questions about the state auditor's race and why it chose not to field a candidate.
Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport