Missouri governor's race no mirror of White House contest

Written by Muleskinner Staff

By SUMMER BALLENTINE

(JEFFERSON CITY, Mo., AP) — A well-known and well-funded Democrat, opposite a field loaded with an array of Republican candidates. The contest to become Missouri’s next governor may seem similar to the White House race, but experts say important differences will affect it.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is the only Democrat to have announced plans to seek the state’s top office. Four Republicans are in the race, with two more expected to enter. Nationally, 16 major GOP candidates have announced plans to run for president. While former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton drew much of the early attention on the Democratic side, she now has other rivals for the nomination.
The lack of a Democratic primary is a key difference in the races.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon is barred by term limits from seeking re-election. Koster being alone on the Democratic side could unite the party and spare him competition for campaign dollars. With nearly $4 million, he has more to spend on the race than all of the announced and expected GOP candidates combined. Retired Missouri State University political scientist Kant Patel noted that unlike Koster, Clinton faces in-party competition, most notably from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Patel said the Republican primary for president likely will entail mudslinging and could split the GOP into factions. That’s also possible in Missouri. But Kant and St. Louis University political science professor Ken Warren said primaries also can hone candidates for an eventual face-off with a rival from another party — an opportunity Koster doesn’t appear likely to have in this governor’s race.
Another difference is that a primary means Clinton likely will be pushed to lean more liberal to secure the party nomination, Patel said. The opposite could happen with Koster, who served as a Republican state senator before switching parties and running for attorney general as a Democrat in 2008.
A party switch typically opens the door for blowback for a Democratic candidate for governor, Warren said. But he said that might not be the case in Missouri, which has been favoring Republican presidential candidates and state lawmakers in the most recent elections.
The four Republicans in the Missouri governor’s race are: former state House Speaker and U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, state Sen. Bob Dixon and former state Rep. Randy Asbury. Two others — former Navy SEAL officer Eric Greitens and suburban St. Louis businessman John Brunner — are expected to announce soon. State Sen. Mike Parson also had been running for governor but announced Saturday that he was switching to the lieutenant governor’s race.
“There’s not any strong front runner at all in that race,” Warren said of Missouri’s Republican field, which he said is “in disarray.”
Greitens, of St. Louis, has raised nearly $1.3 million since launching an exploratory committee for governor in February, bringing in more so far this year than any other GOP candidate.
Name recognition may become an issue. Koster’s time as attorney general has allowed him to build a record among voters, Warren said.
Only one of Missouri’s Republican gubernatorial hopefuls has held statewide office before: Kinder. Warren said Kinder likely is most well-known in Missouri. But Warren said he’s less visible as lieutenant governor, which officially is responsible for acting as president of the senate, taking over if the governor can no longer serve and sitting on a number of boards and commissions.
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Follow Summer Ballentine at https://twitter.com/esballentine.