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Auditor's race comes out of the shadows as GOP tries to link Montee with Obama

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 28, 2010 - In any election year, at least one contest is almost invisible -- with the candidates battling largely in the shadows because voters are focusing on other races.

Until this week, that had appeared to be the plight of Missouri's statewide contest for state auditor featuring Democratic incumbent Susan Montee and Republican Tom Schweich.

No TV ads, no high-profile sparrings over debates like those enlivening the higher-profile battle for the U.S. Senate.

Montee, a lawyer and accountant, has been seen in public almost solely in her official role, announcing the results of various audits. Schweich, a lawyer and former member of the Bush administration, also has been seen little in public since his Aug. 3 primary victory.

But all that changed on Monday, when Schweich traveled around the state for a string of fund-raising events in Kansas City, Springfield and St. Louis. The final money-raising gathering drew about 350 people to the Frontenac Hilton.

Schweich was joined most of the day by a cadre of well-known Republicans: retired Sen. John C. Danforth, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, former Sen. Jim Talent, retired state Auditor Margaret Kelly, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, and U.S. Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond.

Their common messages, though, focused less on state government and more on what Republicans see as the mismanagement of Democrats running Washington, D.C.

The speakers, including Schweich, made clear that a key aim during the campaign's final weeks will be to link Montee to her Washington colleagues -- especially President Barack Obama.

Amid all the federal spending, Danforth said, the state auditor's post becomes even more crucial because of "all this (stimulus) money that is raining on us from Washington."

Danforth even mournfully sang a few bars of an old song that he said now was very appropriate: "Every time it rains, it rains pennies from heaven."

The former senator, who has worked with Schweich in various capacities, cited his past successfully probing financial waste in Washington, at the United Nations and for various corporate clients.

Ashcroft said that Schweich's election would help send a message that Missourians are upset with Washington and want someone who will "tear back the curtain'' to closely monitor how Missouri tax dollars are spent.

But Schweich launched the sharpest attacks directly at Montee, saying that he planned to remind Missourians that she was "the first statewide official to support Barack Obama for president,'' and campaigned for him in six states.

Schweich maintained that Montee "represents a different view of government than I do ... an ultra-liberal government-centric approach."

Schweich also accused Montee of "politicizing a nonpolitical job'' by delaying the release of some major audits so that she gets free and favorable press coverage close to the Nov. 2 election.

Montee's campaign replied that his accusation is ridiculous, citing the fact that audits can take up to a year to conduct. A spokeswoman said Montee "is out there talking to Missourians about her record. For four years she has done her job and pointed out waste and abuse in all areas of government, whether it is a local government board or areas of state government that need to be examined."

Gov. Jay Nixon, a fellow Democrat, has been helping Montee raise money -- but for the moment, she hasn't had any high-profile help from her close friend, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. That decision may reflect the Democratic quest to keep the state auditor's contest, at least from Montee's perspective, focused on state and local matters.

"Republicans and their candidates can try to nationalize this race," a Montee spokeswoman said late Monday, "but Missourians know Susan Montee is committed to an independent auditor's office that is free from interest groups and pressure from political parties."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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