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Letter indicates Kinder playing behind-the-scenes role in auditor contest

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 5, 2009 -  Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder may be put out over the cold shoulder he continues to get from Gov. Jay Nixon when it comes to governmental matters, but Kinder is continuing to make waves on the political front.

Missouri's top elected Republican in the state Capitol appears to be engaging in behind-the-scenes activity in what is shaping up as a GOP contest for state auditor.

Late Friday afternoon, right before the holiday weekend, Kinder's campaign sent out a letter to GOP loyalists, in which he praised Tom Schweich, a Clayton High School graduate and former member of the Bush administration who's now teaching law at Washington University.

Schweich is set to formally announce his bid for state auditor on Tuesday.

While not an outright endorsement, Kinder's comments are accompanied by a lengthy letter from Schweich in which the hopeful lays out his governmental record. (Schweich lacks an elective one.)

A recipient provided the Beacon with a copy of Kinder's missive, which says:

Dear Friends,

The following letter came across my desk and I wanted to share it with you. I have met Tom Schweich and he has a very impressive background that highlights a dedication to public service and a commitment to truth and integrity. In the future I hope you have the opportunity to meet him in person.

Schweich had been persuaded a few weeks ago to drop his designs on Missouri's U.S. Senate seat in 2010, which had been encouraged by former Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo., among others. (The two men have since endorsed the lone announced Republican, state Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Strafford.)

Instead, Schweich was told to look at state auditor, where Republicans are hoping the right candidate can oust Democratic incumbent Susan Montee.

But while Schweich was thinking things over, state Rep. Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, jumped in.

Schweich has maintained that he's still serious about the state auditor post. And his two-day statewide flyaround (a tradition among Missouri candidates who can afford it) seals it.

Kinder's letter indicates that there were some promises -- notably, high-profile backing -- made to Schweich to encourage him to back out of a possible challenge to Blunt.

But with Icet now in, rumors have been rife in the last week (including the holiday weekend) that Schweich was being encouraged by Republican insiders to look at yet another contest.

Such as? The 24th District state Senate seat soon to be vacated by Democrat Joan Bray, who must retire after 2010 because of term limits.

Three Democrats are vying for Bray's post, but no Republican has yet publicly jumped in.

This week's kickoff by Schweich for auditor should put such reports to rest.

But one tied-in Republican said Sunday that Schweich was told that the Senate spot could be a good way for him to get a taste of Missouri politics (and avoid a run-in with Icet). The 24th District is generally seen as Democratic leaning, but -- as in the state auditor contest -- some Republicans contend that the right GOP candidate could have a shot.

UPDATE: Schweich said this afternoon that he was mystified by the talk about state Senate. "I've never considered it. I've never been approached about it,'' he said.

In any case, Kinder's assistance will help Schweich introduce himself to the outstate GOP crowd.

In his letter, Schweich says he is "a fiscal hawk'' and hails from "five generations of Missouri small business owners and professionals.."

He also hints at top-level party support: "...The reception I have received so far shows my message of experience and integrity is connecting with Missourians. I already have received encouragement from Sen. Kit Bond, Congressman Roy Blunt, Lt. Governor Peter Kinder and many other well-known Missouri Republicans...."

The question now: Which ones will join Schweich during his two-day kickoff?

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.