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Missouri Democrats debate whether U.S. Senate primary is a help or hindrance

The report on the wealth gap relies on data from the Federal Reserve Board from 1983 through 2016.
Rici Hoffarth
St. Louis Public Radio

Democrat Lucas Kunce is the top fundraiser in an increasingly crowded primary for the U.S. Senate, according to the latest campaign finance reports.

It comes as Democrats are debating whether a competitive race to take on U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley is good for the party, especially when the GOP incumbent is stocking up for a potentially expensive reelection bid.

In the fundraising quarter that stretched from early April to the end of June, Kunce raised more than $1.2 million. After spending around $710,000, the attorney and Marine veteran has close to $1.2 million on hand.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell, who announced his Senate bid on June 7, took in about $161,000 and spent nearly $26,000. That leaves him with a little more than $135,000 in the bank.

State Sen. Karla May of St. Louis, who officially jumped into the Senate race last week, won’t have to file fundraising numbers until mid-October.

While Kunce has consistently shown a propensity to raise money in his two bids for the U.S. Senate, it’s likely his campaign will have to spend a significant portion to ward off Bell and May.

The winner of that August 2024 race will square off against Hawley, whose campaign has about $4.5 million on hand. A political action committee set up to help Hawley, the Show-Me Strong PAC, has about $1.1 million in the bank.

State Rep. Steve Butz, who supports Kunce, said it’s not helpful that Missouri Democrats are engaged in a primary — especially when defeating Hawley will be challenging because of the state’s increasing tilt toward Republicans.

Since Hawley himself predicted that his Democratic opponent will receive “gobs” of money from donors that dislike him, Butz said his party’s Senate nominee could have a major impact on other races.

“In recent times, you’ll notice we kind of scramble as Democrats. We don’t have a real big bench,” said Butz on a recent episode of “Politically Speaking.” “We have a chance to have a really good slate of statewide candidates. We have to get behind the ones who have the best chance — although it’s a very small chance in Missouri right now.”

State Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, who supports May, said it may not be a bad thing for her party to have a high-profile primary in the run-up to the 2024 general election.

“This also gives us a chance to do voter engagement and get outside to rally them around a candidate,” Bosley said.

Kehoe leads governor fundraising

While Democrats duke it out in the race to take on Hawley, the GOP is engaged in an expensive primary to succeed departing Gov. Mike Parson.

Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe emerged as the fundraising leader during the recent reporting quarter, with his campaign and aligned political action committee raising around $1.22 million. He has nearly $4.1 million in the bank between his campaign and political action committee.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s campaign committee and PAC raised about $287,000 between early April and late June. Ashcroft, who is ahead in many public opinion polls, has more than $1.9 million in the bank between his campaign account and his political action committee.

Meanwhile, the campaign committee and political action committee supporting state Sen. Bill Eigel’s likely gubernatorial bid brought in nearly $794,000 in the fundraising quarter. The Weldon Spring Republican, who is still exploring a gubernatorial candidacy, has nearly $1 million to spend between his campaign account and political action committee.

Because Missouri is much more Republican than it was when Democrats routinely won statewide offices, some GOP officials aren’t surprised there’s a spirited primary to replace Parson — who can’t run again due to term limits. Contentious GOP primaries in 2016, for instance, didn’t stop Republicans from sweeping statewide offices.

As of now, House Minority Crystal Quade of Springfield is the lone Democratic contender for governor. She announced after the fundraising quarter was over and has about $100,000 of cash on hand between her campaign and political action committee accounts.

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