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Luetkemeyer Getting Strong Encouragement To Jump Into GOP 2016 Field For Governor

Congressional office

Missouri’s Republican field for governor in 2016 may be about to get more crowded, as some party activists are urging U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, to enter the race.

If he were to jump in, Luetkemeyer would face former House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, a Republican from west St. Louis County who already has declared her candidacy, and possibly state Auditor Tom Schweich, a St. Louis native who is running for re-election this fall with no major opposition.

So far, only one major Democrat is running for governor: Attorney General Chris Koster (a former Republican until he switched parties in 2007).

In Congress since 2009, Luetkemeyer said in a recent interview that he has been contacted by a number of Republicans who are asking him to take a look at a possible gubernatorial bid.

“It’s very flattering,’’ the congressman said, adding that he’s currently focused only on his own re-election bid this fall.

However, Luetkemeyer did not reject the idea of running for governor in 2016. “After the campaign, I’ll consider looking at it,’’ he said.

From a financial standpoint, Luetkemeyer, 62, would be a strong gubernatorial contender immediately.  His latest campaign-finance report showed him with just over $900,000 in the bank.

This fall, Luetkemeyer has three GOP primary opponents, two Democratic rivals and one Libertarian opponent – but none of them is well-known. Most GOP insiders predict Luetkemeyer won’t have a tough re-election fight this year.

Assuming that he doesn’t have to spend much of his campaign money, Luetkemeyer would likely be able to convert that unused money raised for Congress to run instead for governor. (The reverse is not allowed because Missouri has no campaign donation limits and the federal government does.)

Some Republicans privately say that Luetkemeyer would be a stronger candidate for governor because he hails from outstate, where the party’s base of support increasingly lies. There is concern that Hanaway's or Schweich’s urban ties might not be attractive to rural Republicans.

Luetkemeyer's 3rd District is far flung, including Jefferson City and stretching to include much of St. Charles County as well as other area collar counties, including Franklin and part of Jefferson County.

In 2012, four of the GOP’s six statewide candidates came from the St. Louis area.  All four lost.  They included the party’s top-of-the-ticket candidates --Todd Akin for the U.S. Senate and Dave Spence for governor – as well as state treasurer candidate Cole McNary and attorney general nominee Ed Martin, who now is the state party chairman.

Credit Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio
Luetkemeyer during a 2013 visit to Jefferson City, in the western part of his district.

Some GOP activists have said that the party might have fared better in 2012 if more rural candidates had been on the statewide ticket. They point to the better performance of outstate Republicans on the party’s 2012 ticket.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, from Cape Girardeau, was the only Republican to win statewide office.  The secretary of state nominee, then-state Rep. Shane Schoeller from Greene County, narrowly lost in the closest statewide finish.

What has disturbed Republicans is that the GOP's poor performance came despite the strong showing of the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, who handily carried the state.

Luetkemeyer’s potential support may not just be  rural. On Friday, the congressman met with some area Republicans at a private home in St. Charles. Afterward, some hit the social-media circuit with praise and encouragement for the congressman.

Bob Onder, a former state legislator now running for the state Senate, reported on Twitter on that he had attended the event. “Blaine is a great leader for our state and our country!” said Onder in a Tweet.

Republican donor Buddy Hardin was more direct: “Great event in St Charles w/Rep Blaine Luetkemeyer. Activists & donors encouraging him to run for #MOGOV to unify GOP.”

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