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Republicans engage in early skirmish for state auditor

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 7, 2009 -State Rep. Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, demonstrated today how competitive a party's primary can be, by rolling out 84 endorsements less than two hours before his new GOP rival -- Tom Schweich -- formally kicked off his own campaign.

Icet's list was comprised of fellow legislators: 80 members of the state House and four in the state Senate. 

The locals on the list included state Sens. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, and John Griesheimer of Washington; and state Reps. Rick Stream of Kirkwood, Dwight Scharnhorst of Manchester, John Diehl of Town and Country and Brian Nieves of Union.

The House GOP leaders included Nieves, the majority whip, floor leader Steve Tilley of Perryville and Speaker Pro Tem Bryan Pratt of Blue Springs.

The most notable absence: state House Speaker Ron Richard, R-Joplin.

Schweich -- who emphasized that he wasn't surprised by Icet's move -- launched his campaign this morning before about 60 supporters gathered at the downtown Drury Hotel. Schweich had intentionally avoided having any big names at his kickoff, saying he will roll them out later.

At the moment, the two most prominent Republicans believed to be in his corner include Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who sent out a laudatory e-mail on Schweich's behalf to GOP loyalists over the weekend, and former Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo., one of Schweich's mentors and a former boss.

Schweich's event at the Drury was the first stop of a two-day flyaround, a tradition for statewide candidates who can muster the campaign funds to pay for the private plane and the multiple events in close to a dozen key cities and towns around Missouri.

Icet had skipped such a tour, opting instead for a conference call last month to declare his candidacy. Among other things, Icet has emphasized his tenure as head of the House Budget Committee.

The two men -- and possibly others in the wings -- will compete in the August 2010 primary, with the victor taking on the Democratic incumbent, Susan Montee, who made her own headline lately with the release of several high-profile audits of various parts of the city of St. Louis' government. Her findings included the disclosure of embezzlement by an accountant in the city Streets Department.

Schweich admitted that this is his first foray into elective office ("I didn't even run for class president in high school"), but said that his lack of political experience was outweighed by his governmental heft.

"I'm very much tailor-made for the Missouri auditor position,'' he said.

During his tenure in several posts in the Bush administration, the Clayton High School grad said he traveled 30 countries and exercised many of the key skills needed by a successful auditor.

"I am the ultimate financial hawk,'' Schweich said, declaring that he would closely monitor Missouri's handling of the billions of dollars in federal stimulus aid that continues to pour in.

He also cited his experience as an investigator: he led the probe by former Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo., into the 1993 federal siege against the Branch Davidians in Waco, Tex., that resulted in dozens of deaths.

In addition, Schweich said he had an extensive background as an auditor and manager in government and with his law firm.

The upshot, said Schweich, was that he was committed to staying the state auditor's race. He has no plans to withdraw, as he did a few weeks as a possible contender for Missouri's U.S. Senate seat. His action appeared to leave the field open for state Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Strafford, who is seeking to succeed retiring Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo..

It's unclear if Blunt will endorse Schweich, or stay out of the GOP contest for the only other statewide contest on the 2010 ballot.

Tuesday's jockeying offered just a sample of the intra-party battles that can lead to surprises at the polls.  One of the casualties of the GOP's last hot fight for auditor, in 2006, was among those at Scheich's kickoff: former state Rep. Jack Jackson, R-Wildwood.

Jackson and an area rival, then-state Sen. John Loudon, R-Chesterfield, ended up splitting the region's votes in that multi-candidate GOP fight. The result: Jackson narrowly lost statewide in the primary to Platte County Auditor Sandra Thomas, who lost to Montee that fall.

Jackson -- who had gotten a call from Icet's campaign asking for his endorsement -- said today that he'd known Schweich for years, and was supporting him.

Since Icet and Schweich are both from the St. Louis area, both will likely be watching for any possible Republican challengers from western Missouri (a la Thomas). And both also will looking at each other's campaign-finance reports.

Icet, who announced in June, will need to file one on July 15. It's unclear if Schweich will need to do so. In any case, the state auditor's contest won't be subject to any campaign-donation limits, so any of the candidates need only to obtain a few hefty donations to put together a well-financed campaign.

In other words: the support of a rich contributor or two could have more influence on the race than dozens of lawmakers.

During his St. Louis stop, Schweich declined to estimate how much money he expected to raise or need. But by the time he hit Jefferson City in the afternoon, Schweich was a bit more specific.

(A hat tip and thanks to freelance capitol reporter Jason Rosenbaum.) 

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.