Galloway Takes On The Challenge Of Bringing A Red State Governorship Back To Democrats
As Nicole Galloway stepped to the podium of a St. Louis union hall last year, she was seconds away from making a case to hundreds of enthusiastic Democrats on why she was the right person to take on Gov. Mike Parson.
On paper, Galloway’s challenge was daunting: Many in Jefferson City felt Parson turned down the temperature from Eric Greitens’ chaotic governorship. The GOP chief executive would clearly have the resources to keep the statewide office in GOP hands. And, most important, Missouri transformed from a swing state in the 2000s to one of President Donald Trump’s sturdiest anchors of support.
But Galloway didn’t see the race as a reach. She told her fellow Democrats she could win.
“I’m offering a new way,” Galloway said in August 2019. “A new way that doesn’t settle for being ranked at the bottom of what it seems like every major national ranking. A new way that says we can have affordable health care in every part of our state. A new way where our kids go to great schools with terrific teachers that are paid wages that value the work that they do every day.”
Flash forward to 2020 to a vastly changed political landscape.
The coronavirus pandemic delivered immense challenges to the state’s health care system and economy. Trump’s national popularity plummeted so low that some polls only show him up in Missouri by a handful of points. And Galloway is running in what most political prognosticators believe is the most competitive gubernatorial contest in the country.
And while some Parson supporters still harbor doubts about whether she can piece together the coalition needed to win, Galloway said the issues and the momentum are going in her direction.
“We’re in the worst public health crisis in a century. And the future of health care is on the ballot here in Missouri and nationally,” Galloway said. “And I feel that Governor Parson has failed the test of leadership on both of these issues. And voters are clearly signaling they’re ready for a change.”
A career with numbers
Galloway’s emergence as a contender in a premier statewide contest is a relatively recent phenomenon for the Fenton native.
The 38-year-old got her degree in applied mathematics and economics from what’s now known as Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. She also received an MBA from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Like many people who have been state auditor over the years, Galloway is a certified public accountant.
Before serving in public office, Galloway worked as corporate auditor for Shelter Insurance in Columbia and as an actuarial analyst with Allstate Insurance. She also worked at Brown Smith Wallace, where she audited insurance and reinsurance companies throughout the country. After Boone County Treasurer Jan Fugit died in 2011, Gov. Jay Nixon appointed Galloway to serve out the rest of her term.
When Auditor Tom Schweich died in 2015, Nixon tapped Galloway to essentially serve his entire four-year term. Galloway said that her experience as a local government official gave her a leg up in her responsibilities as auditor.
“I’m responsible for auditing all levels of government, but much of what I focused on is local government,” she said in 2015. “I think it brings great perspective on what an audit can do. Local government is the type of government that’s closest to the people, that people interact with most often. So I bring a great perspective on that.”
Galloway won a four-year term in 2018 against Republican Saundra McDowell in an election cycle that was a profound disappointment for Democrats. Because U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill lost her re-election bid, Galloway was the lone statewide Democratic official in a state that just four years ago had five.
When Galloway jumped into the gubernatorial contest against Parson, she faced a fairly clear path to the nomination, especially after potential rivals like Democratic state Sen. Scott Sifton bowed out of the contest. And prominent Democrats like House Minority Leader Crystal Quade felt Galloway was the right person to unify different factions of the party.
“We’re hearing it from everybody. She’s young. She’s vibrant. She’s extremely intelligent. And voters really appreciate the hard work she’s done as auditor,” Quade said when Galloway announced she was running.
Focus on COVID-19, health care
Much of Galloway’s campaign has focused on taking a different approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes coming up with specific benchmarks for schools to resume in-person learning and enacting a statewide mask mandate. Parson has left the decision on whether to require masks in public up to local governments.
“Folks are frustrated with COVID. They want this to be over. I understand that frustration,” Galloway said. “People want their lives back again. And clearly demonstrating and showing and communicating that masks are a ticket to freedom is important. It is a science-backed, data-driven approach to containing the spread of the virus so we don’t have to shut down again.”
Galloway has also promised to be a check of sorts on the GOP-dominated Legislature. She’s promised to follow through with the Medicaid expansion that voters approved earlier this year. She’s also been highly critical of Parson for supporting a ban on most abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy — and for how children lost their Medicaid coverage.
And with the Affordable Care Act in flux at the U.S. Supreme Court, Galloway proposed having the state enact a requirement that insurance companies must cover people who have preexisting conditions.
“It is a backstop, but I think that we should be proactive,” Galloway said. “The Republicans have no plans for how they’re going to address issues of preexisting conditions. And it’s critically important that we lead the way on health care and ensure that people have access to quality, affordable health care in this state.”
Galloway has also put out a plan to overhaul policing practices in the state in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Her plan would ban chokeholds and require body cameras. She also wants to limit no-knock warrants in drug-related cases.
The proposal also would have the state government take steps to help minority-owned businesses and eliminate specific excuses that are required to vote absentee in the state.
“Folks need to hear a recognition that racism is real,” Galloway said. “That inequality does exist. And if you’re not willing to say that and recognize that, then how can you even begin to address it?”
Momentum or status quo?
There are signs that Galloway’s campaign is touching a nerve throughout the state.
Even though Parson and his aligned political action committee have more money at their disposal, Galloway has been able to outraise him when it comes to capped donations to her campaign committee. She’s also receiving outside money from groups like the Democratic Governors Association. Parson’s political action committee has received similar donations from the Republican Governors Association.
In some respects, Galloway is benefiting from the reality that there aren’t that many competitive governors races this cycle. The only races of note are in North Carolina and Montana. And most polls show Democratic North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper comfortably ahead, which means more national money can flow to Missouri to help Galloway.
Galloway may also get help from the top of the ticket. Most opinion polls show that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are doing much better in Missouri than the Hillary Clinton-Tim Kaine ticket in 2016. Historically, a better Democratic performance on the presidential level has helped that party’s gubernatorial contender.
“I think this gives a lot of momentum to the Democratic Party,” said state Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis. “But I also want to tell the Democrats that this is not a time to get lazy. This is a time to amp up the volume more.”
Parson and his aligned PAC have slammed Galloway with an expensive ad blitz criticizing her on a host of issues — including public safety policy and how she conducted some of her audits.
Other Parson backers, like GOP state Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman of Arnold, said the governor has had to make tough decisions during unprecedented times — while Galloway has only had to throw stones at him.
“I think he’s making a lot of good decisions that Nicole has, for better or for worse, has not had to weigh in on,” Coleman said.
For Galloway to win, she’ll not only have to run up the score in places like St. Louis County and Kansas City, but also regain lost ground in rural and exurban Missouri. That is likely to be difficult, especially since Missouri Democrats’ standing has collapsed in places like northeast and southeast Missouri and more populous places like Jefferson and Buchanan counties.
Galloway said she’s up to the task.
“Look, when I launched this campaign for governor more than a year ago, I never imagined where we would be today, the health crisis and the economic crisis we’re facing," Galloway said. "But I knew then that Missouri needed a change, and I’m even more certain of it now.”
A profile of Parson will be published in the coming days.
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum