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Blunt's blast at Schweich recalls GOP's 2002 auditor mess

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 15, 2009 - The only announced Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2010, U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, is now targeting the "fresh face'' from Clayton High School -- visiting Washington University law professor Thomas Schweich -- who is being promoted as a Senate alternative by one of the state GOP's elder statesmen, retired U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth.

Schweich was escorted around the state Capitol on Thursday by Danforth, who made news on Monday when he first told the Beacon that he feared Blunt might not be able to win in 2010 against the likely Democratic Senate candidate, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. At stake is the seat to be vacated with the retirement of Republican Christopher "Kit" Bond, who has held the Senate post since 1987. 

On Friday, Blunt spokesman Rich Chrismer issued a statement about Schweich's acknowledgement that he donated $500 in December 2001 to then-state Auditor Claire McCaskill, a Democrat then running for re-election in 2002. (McCaskill went on to lose a bid for governor in 2004, and then win her U.S. Senate seat in 2006).

"We are very disappointed by Professor Thomas Schweich's comments defending his political support and financial contribution to Claire McCaskill in her 2002 campaign. While Professor Schweich has admitted he supported Claire McCaskill with a $500 contribution to her campaign in December 2001, the excuse he has given for doing so doesn't pass the truth test. Professor Schweich claims 'the Republican Party could not field a credible candidate' for auditor in 2002, yet his contribution to McCaskill came months before the filing deadline.

Moreover, the Republican Party did field a great potential candidate with Jay Kanzler. Professor Schweich could have admitted he made a mistake in supporting Claire McCaskill, but he decided to be disingenuous about it and there's nothing fresh about dishonesty."

UPDATE-- And here is Schweich's reply:

"I am flattered that Roy Blunt is so concerned about me that he has launched a vintage Washington-style smear campaign against me before I have even decided whether to run. It underscores the need for our party to go in a new direction in this Senate race, demonstrates how vulnerable Blunt is feeling in light of the recent polls showing him being handily defeated by Robin Carnahan, and makes me more likely to run.

"With respect to the donation to Clare McCaskill when she was running for auditor, as I said before, I made the donation when there was no credible alternative candidate. I stand by that statement and that donation. What Blunt and his twittering operatives fail to state is that I have supported Kit Bond, Jim Talent, and every Republican candidate for governor, senator, and president since I was 18 years old, that I received three vetted political appointments from a Republican presidential administration, and that I began my political "career" when I was an 11-year-old volunteer for Kit Bond.

Should I decide to run, I will run on the facts and the issues -- particularly my concerns about the $20 trillion federal debt that the Obama administration intends to incur, the dramatic expansion of federal power over the private sector, the $1 trillion increases in taxes being proposed by the Obama administration, and the selling out of our country to other countries like China. As an elected representative of the people of Missouri, Roy Blunt should refocus his efforts on stopping Barak Obama, not stopping me."

For the record:

In January 2002, when McCaskill formally announced her re-election plans, there was not yet a Republican candidate and the state GOP said then that finding a challenger was not a priority because the party was focusing on former U.S. Rep. Jim Talent's 2002 bid for the U.S. Senate (which he won).

Jay Kanzler didn't emerge as a Republican candidate for auditor until March 2002; he filed on the last day of candidate filing. At the time, only a political unknown -- Al Hanson -- had filed as a Republican for state auditor. The primary contest was low-key, and Hanson ended up winning. He also turned out to be a convicted felon, and Talent disavowed him as a co-member of the 2002 GOP statewide ticket.

Back to Schweich.

Schweich said in an interview Friday that he met with potential supporters Thursday morning in Springfield, Mo., before traveling to the state Capitol. He said he has been attending meetings Friday in St. Louis. Schweich declined to offer details on who he met with, but he added that ;the response has been encouraging.

During Thursday's Capitol tour, Schweich reiterated that he is not yet an official candidate for the Senate.

But if he does enter the Republican primary, Schweich said he will have the financial backing to be competitive against Blunt, R-Strafford, and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman. Besides Danforth, Schweich is being touted by major GOP boosters such as Sam Fox and Bert Walker.

A big question: Will Schweich's wary comments about certain types of embryonic stem cell research cause him problems with research boosters like Danforth and Fox?

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.