Missouri's 2024 candidates seek to differentiate themselves during Governor’s Ham Breakfast
The 2024 Missouri primaries are less than a year away, and Gov. Mike Parson has yet to endorse a gubernatorial candidate.
At the annual Governor’s Ham Breakfast at the Missouri State Fair on Thursday, Parson said something he’s looking for is a continuation of his administration's work.
“We built one heck of a foundation in this state, and I want to make sure people have a vision and understand it works and is successful,” Parson said. “And I want to make sure they retain that.”
Three Republicans are vying for the position, and all were present at the breakfast.
Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe said his strategy for his gubernatorial campaign is to continue to listen to Missourians on how to keep government out of their life. Kehoe said he believes Parson has done a good job.
“We would love to be able to continue to get the state moving in the right direction and improve on that the best we can,” Kehoe said.
Not all candidates are likely to continue Parson’s work.
State Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, who is exploring a bid for governor, said he has the message that is most in line with Republicans in the state.
“They’re looking for a wartime governor, that's going to go down to Jefferson City and kick over the applecart with the special interests that right now are profiting and benefiting from the largest government spending that's going on in the history of the state,” Eigel said.
Eigel, who has criticized the size of recent state budgets, including ones under Parson’s administration, repeated that grievance.
“Governor Parson’s budget, which included more earmarks and more spending than any budget in the history of Missouri, that was not a Republican product, that was not a conservative product,” Eigel said.
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, whom political observers consider the leading candidate, urged voters to look at the candidates' records.
“I'm the one that isn't just talking about doing things. I've done it,” Ashcroft said.
Ashcroft pointed to his work on elections and his administrative rule on libraries as examples of his work.
Librarians have said Ashcroft’s rule, which prohibits libraries from buying materials deemed obscene and from having certain displays in children’s areas, would limit children's ability to access books.
Ashcroft also helped craft an omnibus election bill that included the requirement of a photo ID to vote.
Ashcroft said there are a myriad of issues he has spoken to Missourians about.
“The economy is a big one, rising food prices, rising energy prices. Parents feel like they're not in charge of their kids,” Ashcroft said. “They're worried about education.”
There is only one Democrat running for governor so far. Missouri House Minority Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, announced in July. In her announcement video, she said Ashcroft “uses fear to score cheap political points and divide us.”
Ashcroft said he is probably the Republican who most differs with Quade on policy.
“I'm very happy to run against someone like that to show a clear difference. And, frankly, the people of the state have been very kind to me in past elections,” Ashcroft said.
U.S. Senate race
In the U.S. Senate race, Sen. Josh Hawley is facing his first reelection bid and is currently unchallenged.
Three Democrats are running for the chance to take on Hawley in the general election. Lucas Kunce, who ran for Senate in 2022, was one of them who attended the breakfast.
Kunce said he spent time at the fair talking to farmers about agriculture.
“Most people were worried about Big Ag coming in gobbling up their farms, ruining their land values,” Kunce said.
Despite likely having to face two other Democrats in the primary, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell and state Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, Kunce said he feels good about his campaign in terms of fundraising and endorsements.
Kunce said his campaign has raised $2.5 million in grassroots donations. His endorsements include the Missouri AFL-CIO and the Missouri State Council of Firefighters.
“We're building the coalition that it takes to win in this state, whether you're a Democrat or Republican. And I'm just really excited that we've been able to build that and sort of get the momentum going that we need to win,” Kunce said.
Abortion could be on the ballot
One of the big unknowns for the 2024 election is whether abortion rights will be on the ballot in Missouri.
Kunce said that if abortion rights do make it on the ballot, its chances of passing are good.
“I think it's going to win. I think it's critical,” Kunce said. “Look, people in Missouri, we want to be represented, we don't want to be ruled.”
A set of proposed constitutional amendments would place abortion rights in Missouri’s constitution. But there is a court battle over the proposed ballot language.
Ashcroft, who wrote the language that is being challenged, said it’s his job to look at what the amendment would do.
“People will use everything they can to get an advantage in an election when it comes to these initiative petitions, but if people wanted certain language, they should have written their amendment differently,” Ashcroft said.
The ACLU has stated that proponents of the measure have already lost months of signature collecting due to repeated delays.
Whether any proposed constitutional amendments make it on the ballot, U.S. Sen. Eric Schmitt, a Republican, said it’s inevitable that the question will be brought to Missouri voters.
“What will likely happen, which is what conservatives advocated for a long time, is let the state's decide. And so, I think we're probably headed for that in a lot of states, including Missouri,” Schmitt said.
Hawley has a similar opinion. He said he has celebrated how the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last year returned the question of whether to allow abortion to the states.
“Listen, I think voters ought to be able to weigh in and in every state and jurisdiction,” Hawley said.
Hawley said he’ll defer to voters if and when that appears on the ballot in Missouri.
While Hawley said the success of such a proposal would depend on what it does, Ashcroft said he does not believe Missourians would vote for abortion rights.
Eigel said voters have spoken on abortion rights.
“Missouri voters have already had a chance to weigh in on the pro-life issue. And for the past 20 years, they've been sending super majorities of pro-life Republicans down to Jefferson City,” Eigel said.