Parson's entry into GOP contest for governor signals rural effort to revamp race
(Updated, 9:40 p.m. Thursday, April 30)
In a move long expected, Missouri Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, announced today that he’s running for Missouri governor in 2016.
And his top issue, he said in his kickoff address, "will be about protecting and fighting to expand the number one industry in our state - agriculture."
His entry also is expected to kick off a likely parade of rural GOP rivals.
Parson already has close to $450,000 in the bank, which would immediately put him among the leaders in a Republican contest that was roiled by the Feb. 26 suicide of arguably the party’s frontrunner at the time, the late state Auditor Tom Schweich.
The former sheriff of Polk County, Parson would be the first major announced GOP candidate for governor who’s not from the St. Louis area. Even before Schweich’s death, some party activists had been seeking an outstate alternative for rural Republicans uncomfortable with the otherwise St. Louis-centric field seeking to run the state.
Parson acknowledged as much during his kickoff address, delivered in the high school gym of his hometown of Bolivar, Mo. -- also the home turf of U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
Like Blunt, Parson is highlighting his background as the son of farmers.
"Missouri has always been a state where our strength comes from the things we grow in the soil and the products we make, and I will do all I can to promote Missouri agriculture," Parson said.
"...The values and beliefs of rural communities like this one have made our nation great, and it is time to bring those values to the state Capitol."
Parson has highlighted his leadership role in last year’s narrow passage of the so-called “right to farm’’ constitutional amendment, officially known as Amendment 1. He also is active in the gun-rights movement, with allies contending that he’s most likely to win endorsements from the National Rifle Association and Missouri Farm Bureau.
Such support, some Republicans say, may be necessary for any Missouri GOP nominee to have a chance of defeating the expected Democratic nominee, state Attorney General Chris Koster, who has amassed by far the most money.
Parson noted in a telephone interview late Thursday that the "right to farm'' amendment narrowly passed despite strong opposition in Missouri's urban areas. His point was that rural Missouri voters can wield more power in state politics if they show up in large numbers, and take a united stand, in favor of a particular candidate or issue.
But although he acknowledges his rural focus, Parson said his campaign will pay attention to voters and party activists in St. Louis and other urban areas.
Even so, the St. Louis area won't be among the stops for his campaign's traditional statewide "flyaround'' which begins Friday in Jefferson City.
More Republicans expected to jump in
Former state Rep. Randy Asbury, R-Moberly, already has announced, but he has raised little money and has had a low profile.
Two other outstate Republicans – Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder of Cape Girardeau and state Sen. Bob Dixon of Springfield – also are considering bids for governor, but have yet to officially jump in. Kinder and Dixon also aren’t in nearly as strong financial shape as Parson.
Dixon reported $102,000 in the bank in his latest campaign-finance report filed April 15, while Kinder reported only $56,673 on hand.
The most recent campaign-finance report of the only other announced GOP candidate for governor, former Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway from St. Louis County, showed her with $1.2 million in the bank.
The exploratory committee of potential Republican contender, author and former Navy Seal Eric Greitens of St. Louis, reported amassed more than $450,000 in the bank in just over a month. Former state Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, is the chairman of Greitens' exploratory committee. Greitens also already is assembling a staff for what some see as a likely candidacy.
Wealthy businessman John Brunner, also from St. Louis County, has yet to file any major campaign-finance reports for his exploratory committee. But he has raised at least $345,000 so far this month in large donations of more than $5,000 each, according to required filings with the Missouri Ethics Commission. Brunner ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2012.
Greitens stopped by the Missouri Capitol this week to meet privately with GOP legislators, while Brunner is assembling a staff and attempting to raise his profile on social media. Meanwhile, Hanaway has appearing at Republican events in recent weeks, after suspending her campaign for about a month after Schweich's death.
A spokesman for Hanaway said she welcomed Parson's entry into the contest, and a broader discussion of the issues facing the state.
Some political activists privately contend that Hanaway could benefit as the only woman candidate in a crowded primary field.
State Republican leaders plan to stay out
In any case, candidate filing doesn’t begin until February. All the contenders in both parties then would battle it out in the August primary.
State Republican Party chairman John Hancock said the political party won’t get involved in any primary, or seek to encourage or discourage any candidates. In a recent appearance on St. Louis Public Radio’s Politically Speaking podcast, Hancock contended that crowded primaries tended to be less nasty – and not as divisive for parties – as two-person contests.
Hancock, a St. Louis-based political consultant, has worked for Hanaway and Brunner. He has recused himself from aiding any Missouri GOP candidates while he is party chairman.
Parson pledges clean campaign, "positive politics"
Parson has been critical of Hancock and had been among those who had called for Hancock to step down amid the allegations from Schweich and his allies that Hancock had engaged in a "whispering campaign'' wrongly alleging that Schweich was Jewish. Hancock had denied the assertions.
Parson also has been calling for less negativity in politics, but some Republicans privately have cited Parson's own negative campaigning in earlier GOP contests.
During his address, Parson pledged to "run a campaign with honor and integrity using positive politics."
"Missourians are fed up with politicians running each other through the mud with attack ads and even worse," he said. "Missourians are tired of candidates who say one thing on the campaign trail and then do another once in office.
"And Missourians have reached their limit with the partisan bickering that too often stands in the way of real progress for our state."
Parson said his campaign will also promote the virtues of smaller government and "fiscally responsible budgets."
"I pledge to you that I will fight for our families," he said. "I won’t let politics as usual define our state, and I will take my core values of Faith, Family, Country and Common Sense to the State Capitol."
In the interview, Parson added, "I want to see Missouri politics change."