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Candidate spending kicks up as August primary looms, and Wagner goes on TV

St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger is heading into the final weeks of his primary campaign with a hefty financial edge over Democratic rival Mark Mantovani as the two continue their expensive battle on TV.

And now, U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, is joining them by also going on TV, even though she is expected to easily win the Republican primary.

Wagner’s decision to run ads before the Aug. 7 primary is notable – especially since she didn’t run any TV spots in 2016, according to her campaign staff.

But 2016 was a big GOP year. And 2018 may not be.

Mantovani, Stenger continue spending spree

For the August primary, the marquee contest is arguably the Democratic race for county executive.

Since April, Stenger has spent almost $1.4 million in his bid for a second term – much of it on TV. That compares to just under $700,000 for Mantovani, a St. Louis businessman.

The two have been waging a nasty ad campaign for months. Mantovani has been accusing Stenger of being corrupt, while Stenger questions whether Mantovani is a true Democrat because he has donated to Republicans.

With less than a month left before the Aug. 7 primary, Stenger still has $1.5 million in the bank, according to Monday’s campaign-finance filings.

Mantovani reported $742,000 on hand. But that includes $250,000 of his own money. Mantovani has put in more than $1.2 million since he announced last year. And he has said he’s prepared to put in more in the final weeks.

None of the Republican contenders for St. Louis County executive have raised much money.

The executive race is exempt from the campaign-donation limits that now are in place for statewide and legislative candidates. Mantovani and Stenger have said they support some sort of donation limits for county candidates.

Wagner ad highlights her past

Wagner campaign manager Brecht Mulvihill said in a statement that the congresswoman is running ads early simply because she wants to reintroduce herself to the 2nd District constituents she has represented for at least five years.

The 2nd District takes in much of west and southwest St. Louis County, as well as parts of St. Charles and Jefferson counties.

“Ann Wagner is a true daughter of the 2nd District, raised locally and proud to call Ballwin her home today,” Mulvihill said. “Ann’s latest campaign ad shares her record of service directly with the friends and neighbors she is honored to represent in Congress.” 

But the fact that she’s running TV ads so early, after skipping them for years, could signal that she’s concerned about this year’s political climate and her potential Democratic challengers.

Wagner has plenty of money. Her latest campaign report, filed Sunday, shows her with about $3.4 million in the bank. That’s six times more than the bank account of her best-funded Democratic rival, Cort VanOstran. He reported just over $541,000 on hand.

VanOstran’s Aug. 7 rivals include Mark Osmack, a military veteran, who reported $48,530 in the bank as of June 30; and previous 2nd District nominee Bill Haas, whose latest campaign-finance numbers were not available Monday.

Clay/Bush contest attracting attention

Meanwhile, in the 1st District, U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay is maintaining a financial advantage over a Democratic rival who's been gaining some national support.

After raising $83,174 and spending $58,554, Clay -- a Democrat from University City -- has more than $326,000 in the bank. He’s squaring off against Cori Bush of Florissant, who has about $4,000 on hand.
Clay has never lost an election since he began his political career in the early 1980s. But Bush has received support from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat who upended a longtime congressman earlier this year. Ocasio-Cortez is set to campaign for Bush this weekend in St. Louis.
Financial disparity in state auditor tallies

State Auditor Nicole Galloway has quietly built up a war chest of more than $1 million in her bid to keep the only statewide office in the state Capitol held by a Democrat.

Galloway reported $1.08 million in the bank. She has no serious Democratic rival in the Aug. 7 primary.

Among the Republicans vying to challenge her, only St. Louis lawyer David Wasinger has amassed a sizable bank account. He reported just over $760,000 in the bank. That compares to just over $20,000 for state Rep. Paul Curtman, who resides in Franklin County.

Former governor reports legal bills

Former Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned June 1, reported that he still has about $1.1 million in his campaign bank account after spending $1.4 million since April in a quest to stay in office.

Greitens stepped down amid investigations into alleged misdeeds involving his personal behavior and campaign fundraising.

Most of his spending during the past quarter was for legal fees, much of it tied to the firm of Husch Blackwell. However, he also paid $95,000 to Bask Digital Media of San Diego, apparently for the ads that the former governor aired in an ill-fated effort to defend himself.

Jason Rosenbaum contributed information for this article.

Follow Jo on Twitter @jmannies

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.

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