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Is major Schweich fundraiser harbinger of gubernatorial bid in 2016?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - Many of Missouri’s best-known Republicans – present and past -- are gathering here in a couple weeks for a huge display of support for state Auditor Tom Schweich. His contest will be at the top of the Missouri ballot a year from now.

But some party activists already are privately speculating that the big-ticket gathering Nov. 17 at the Clayton home of business magnate Sam Fox also may signal a show of force behind Schweich should he decide to run for governor in 2016.

The luminaries are expected to include several former Republican senators and governors: John Ashcroft, Christopher “Kit” Bond, John C. Danforth and Jim Talent. 

They are slated to be joined by current U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and at least five of the state’s Republican members of the U.S. House: U.S. Reps. Ann Wagner of Ballwin, Blaine Luetkemeyer of St. Elizabeth, Jason Smith of Salem, Vicky Hartzler of Harrisonville and Billy Long of Springfield.

Ticket prices range from $1,000 a person to $20,000 a couple, although the invitation letter notes that higher amounts are welcome since Missouri has no campaign donation limits.

Fox’s invitation letter is effusive in its praise of Schweich, calling him “a nonpartisan auditor tirelessly working on behalf of Missouri taxpayers to expose waste, fraud, and abuse.”

(Former state Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, hosted a fundraiser recently for Schweich at her vacation home at Lake of the Ozarks. Cunningham said in an interview that Schweich impressed the audience of about 70.)

Schweich has declined to discuss any political plans beyond his re-election bid in 2014, emphasizing during a recent appearance on the Politically Speaking podcast (a joint venture with the Beacon and St. Louis Public Radio) that he believed Republicans shouldn’t get distracted by 2016.

However, many Republicans already are focused on 2016, with a few who have either announced bids or openly discussing their interest.

They include former Catherine Hanaway, Missouri’s first woman speaker of the Missouri House and most recently the U.S. attorney for the eastern district under President George W. Bush. Hanaway has said since last winter that she is considering bids for governor or for attorney general.

In an interview at a Republican gathering in August, she said that she’s increasingly getting encouragement to focus on governor.

However, some Republican activists, presumably in the Schweich camp, say that Hanaway lately also has been encouraged to consider running for lieutenant governor instead as part of a Schweich-Hanaway ticket.

That effort might get stronger, some party activists said privately, should Kinder – the current lieutenant governor – make good on a possible challenge to Rep. Jason Smith in 2014.

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