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Onder drops out of St. Charles County executive race against incumbent Ehlmann

Sen. Bob Onder leans back in his desk chair and listens to debate in the Missouri Senate.
Rachel Lippmann
St. Louis Public Radio.
Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, listens to debate in the Missouri Senate in Jefferson City on May 13. Onder is a member of the Conservative Caucus, which often clashes with GOP leadership.

State Sen. Bob Onder has pulled out of a hotly contested GOP primary against St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann.

Onder, a Lake Saint Louis Republican who is departing the Senate due to term limits, signed up to run against Ehlmann earlier this year.

In a message sent Tuesday by his campaign, Onder stated ”after lengthy discussion, reflection and prayer, my wife Allison and I have concluded that it is not in the best interests of our family that I continue the race for St. Charles County Executive.”

“This decision, I believe, is best for my family, and will also allow me to focus on elections deeply important to the future of our state, including the race for my own replacement in Senate District 2,” said Onder.

Onder noted that he is backing state Rep. Nick Schroer, who is running against fellow GOP state Rep. John Wiemann in the 2nd District Senate race. That district encompasses a portion of St. Charles County.

Onder did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on his decision to withdraw from the contest.

Onder had been raising significant amounts of money for his county executive campaign. His latest campaign finance report showed that he had more than $250,000 in the bank.

Ehlmann, who first won election to his county executive post in 2006, had more than $100,000 in cash on hand to spend on his primary bid. He will face Arnie Dienoff in the Republican primary.

Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann, shown in 2017, has been in office since 2006.

Ehlmann said he was taken aback by Onder’s decision to pull out of the race, but added that he will focus his campaign on how to continue growing St. Charles County. He noted that over the past decade, the county grew by more than 12.4%.

“And we’ll continue to grow for some time,” Ehlmann said. “But the region only grew 1.4%. And if the region doesn’t grow, eventually everybody who wants to move to St. Charles in the region will do it — and then we won’t be growing either. So we need to get people moving to the region.”

Onder’s departure from the contest ends, at least for now, a highly eventful tenure in public service.

One of the few lawmakers elected with both medical and law degrees, Onder first broke into the political scene in 2006, when he won election to a St. Charles-based House seat. During that time, Onder was an outspoken opponent of abortion rights and the sponsor of a wide-ranging immigration bill that made it to then-Gov. Matt Blunt’s desk.

After one term, Onder ran for Congress in the now-defunct 9th District. He engaged in a bitter race with Blaine Luetkemeyer, who eventually won the Republican primary and the general election in 2008.

Onder returned to public life in 2014, easily winning a St. Charles County-based Senate seat. He built a reputation in the Missouri Senate as a thorn in the side of GOP leadership as a member of the Conservative Caucus, especially when it came to drawing a new congressional map.

“I apologize to those of you who are disappointed by this decision,” Onder said. “I am deeply appreciative and will forever be grateful for your outpouring of hard work and effort in my run for County Executive. But we will continue to fight together to save this great country.”

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum 

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.