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Some Zweifel supporters have more than his re-election in mind

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 23, 2011 - Several hundred people -- including union leaders, Democratic activists, two mayors and a former governor -- gathered in Forest Park's Jewel Box Wednesday night to help state Treasurer Clint Zweifel formally launch his 2012 campaign for re-election.

The kickoff was more personal than Zweifel's re-election announcement last week, with his wife -- not a fellow politician -- introducing him. Janice Zweifel emphasized that her husband "gives 100 percent to the job."

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and city Democratic Party chair Brian Wahby spoke to the crowd as well, with Slay in particular praising Zweifel's financial expertise and his understanding of urban issues.

Zweifel, in turn, lauded the mayor "and the relationship we've had for 10 years." Zweifel, who was first elected treasurer in 2008, is a former state legislator from Florissant.

In his address, Zweifel initially emphasized two points:

  • His focus on the economy. "Jobs has been Priority No. 1 since we took office,'' the treasurer said, citing his office's low-interest loan program for small businesses;
  • His bipartisan efforts: "We listened. We partnered with Republicans and we partnered with Democrats."

Zweifel did take a few jabs at the Republican-controlled General Assembly, citing unsuccessful proposals to curb the state's minimum wage, eliminate some child-labor laws, and reduce the clout of labor in the workplace.
As a down-ballot office, the state treasurer could well be affected by the success or failure of Democrats at the top of the 2012 ticket, notably President Barack Obama, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and Gov. Jay Nixon.

Many of the kickoff attendees, as expected, exuded confidence that Democrats will bounce back in 2012 from last fall's shellacking. So far, for example, Zweifel has no announced Repiublican rival.

Zweifel has maintained a low-key profile in Jefferson City, attracting far less attention from the press and the public than his predecessor, Republican Sarah Steelman.

Even so, what was most intriguing among the Jewel Box crowd was the number of Democrats who said publicly or privately that they viewed Zweifel as a potential candidate for governor in 2016. Such speculators included Wahby, who pointed out at the mike that former Gov. Bob Holden was in the audience.

Noting that Holden earlier had been the state treasurer (1993-2001), Wahby ignited applause when he observed, "Maybe that's a good path for other people."

Everyone in the room knew what "other people'' Wahby had in mind.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.