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Government, Politics & Issues

Hanaway campaigns below the radar in everchanging GOP battle for governor

Jo Mannies/St. Louis Public Radio

Almost weekly, it seems, Missouri’s Republican field for governor either gets larger or smaller.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder is now in the race, as is state Sen. Bob Dixon of Springfield.  State Sen. Mike Parson of Joplin is out. And two likely St. Louis area contenders – John Brunner and Eric Greitens – are in the wings, presumably waiting for the right time to launch.

All that jockeying appears to have drawn attention away from the one Republican who’s been campaigning the longest: former state House Speaker Catherine Hanaway.

Also from St. Louis County, Hanaway – who most recently was the federal U.S. attorney here under George W. Bush -- has been a GOP candidate for governor for well over a year.

She announced in February 2014, and for a time appeared to be the only Republican willing to take on the likely Democratic nominee, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster.

In the last six months, all that has changed, beginning with the February suicide of her then-chief GOP rival, state Auditor Tom Schweich.

Hanaway argues that the growing Republican field says more about Koster than about her.  The crowd, she said in an interview, reflects “a tremendous sense of optimism on the Republican side that we’re actually going to win the governor’s mansion.”

She added, “I don’t think that people having a lot of choices hurts me. I think I can distinguish myself in a crowded field.”

At the moment, she’s the only woman.

Highlights conservative platform

As her list of rivals keeps changing, Hanaway has been quietly showing up at local Republican gatherings around the state to lay out her platform and make her case.

Last Thursday night, that journey found her addressing about 50 members of the St. Louis area Young Republicans at the county library headquarters in Frontenac.

Hanaway laid out her key issues:  She supports “right to work,” which would curb union powers in the workplace, and she opposes Common Core, which proposes public-education standards.

She is calling for doing away with teacher tenure, and proposes re-examining the state’s income tax structure.

She says her platform is centered on a quest to improve the state’s economy, and make Missouri more attractive for business.

But in an unusual move, Hanaway also laid out to her audience the challenges that any major candidate faces, and how she’s handled them so far.

Hanaway emphasized that she needs to raise money and needs a strong field operation, especially of energetic young people.  At the moment, she noted she’s the Republican contender with the most in the bank: roughly $1.5 million.

But Greitens’ exploratory committee is nipping financially at her heels, with just over $1.1 million.  His latest three-month tally was twice that of Hanaway.

The combined financial tally of all the Republican contenders remains less than Koster's bank account, which totaled roughly $4 million as of the last campaign-finance report, filed July 15.

It’s unclear yet if Hanaway has been helped or hurt by the fact that most of her campaign money so far has come from one man: wealthy financier Rex Sinquefield. He has given Hanaway roughly $1 million, either directly or via campaign groups that he helps bankroll.

Sinquefield appears to share many of Hanaway’s views on education, taxes and unions.

Grappling with contest’s “emotional roller coaster”

At the Young Republican event, Hanaway was candid to the St. Louis group about the importance of St. Louis County’s voters to any Republican running for statewide office, especially governor.

“The population is so big that a (percentage) point or two can make a huge difference statewide,’’ she said. “No area is more important than St. Louis County.”

In the interview afterward, Hanaway reflected on the dramatic changes in the GOP contest for governor. Most began with the shocking suicide last February of Schweich, a St. Louis area native aligned with some of the state's top Republicans, notably retired U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo.

Hanaway suspended her campaign for about a month, before quietly returning to the trail in the spring. Retired U.S. Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo. -- for whom Hanaway used to work -- is among her backers.

Speaking in general, Hanaway acknowledged that her changing list of rivals – and the circumstances – has caused some personal reflection.

“One thing I’ve learned for sure is that you can’t ride the emotional roller coaster of this campaign,’’ she said. “I really think the person who can stick to their core mission, and stick to their principles and build their organization is going to win.”

Hanaway added, “It’s a pretty good test for being governor. You can’t ride the emotional roller coaster every day, and you’ve got to be tough.”

And what message does she have to other Republicans looking at the governor’s race? “Come on in, the water’s fine.”

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