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Caleb Rowden drops out of GOP race for Missouri Secretary of State

Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, speaks during a post-session press conference on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024, in Jefferson City. Senate Republican leadership has clashed with members of the Missouri Freedom Caucus holding up business.
Eric Lee
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, speaks during a press conference last January in Jefferson City.

With a swipe at the intraparty foes who have disrupted the state Senate for several years, Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden on Monday dropped out of the Republican race for Secretary of State.

Rowden, who as of January was sitting on the largest campaign fund in the field, said in a statement released via social media that when he announced in November, it was the best choice for his family but that he “no longer believe(s) that to be true.”

Rowden, a Columbia resident, entered politics in 2012 when he ran for a Missouri House seat after a career as a Christian rock musician. He won election to the Senate in 2016 and must leave office this year because of term limits.

Politics have changed in the 12 years since he first ran, Rowden said.

“While there have always been deep political and philosophical disagreements about how to get to a desired outcome, the desired outcome and the facts used to make decisions used to be shared values,” Rowden said. “More and more, the latter no longer seems to be the case. Consensus-building was once a trait that was admired and rewarded. That no longer seems to be the case.”

Rumors about Rowden’s possible withdrawal have been circulating for weeks. He had not filed for the office and was absent last month from Boone County Lincoln Days, the major Republican gathering in his home county.

With Rowden’s withdrawal, the remaining Republican candidates are Valentina Gomez, a real estate investor making her first bid for office, Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller, state Sen. Denny Hoskins of Warrensburg and state Rep. Adam Schwadron of St. Charles.

On the Democratic side, the candidates are Monique Williams of St. Louis and state Rep. Barbara Phifer of Kirkwood, who announced her candidacy last week.

Filing for office concludes next Tuesday.

Rowden had more than $400,000 in his campaign fund and joint fundraising committee to support his campaign, he reported in January. Gomez had $1,600, Schoeller had $54,000, Hoskins had $267,000 and Schwadron had $93,000.

Rowden has been one of the GOP’s top Senate leaders for six years. He was Senate Majority Leader from 2019 to 2023 before taking over the chamber’s top job.

For most of that time, Rowden has been beset by factional fights, first from a group that called itself the conservative caucus and now with a Missouri chapter of the national Freedom Caucus. After several days of vicious fights over how to move forward with a proposal to raise the threshold for passing constitutional amendments, Rowden removed four members of the Freedom Caucus from committee chairmanships.

That put a target on Rowden that led several local GOP party organizations to demand his resignation as Senate leader.

In his statement, Rowden said he was unsure whether politics will be fixed.

“I am not certain when these shifts started, and I am not certain when, or if, they will shift back,” Rowden said. “That is not for me to decide, but for the voters who elect men and women to serve in these positions.”

Remaining in politics isn’t in the best interest of his family, said Rowden, who has young children.

“I am as certain as I have ever been that this is the right decision for me and my family in this season of our lives,” Rowden said. “I have been given numerous small, but meaningful, moments in the last few weeks with my kids that have reminded me of the opportunities that exist for all three of them in the years to come, and how my presence and support in their lives can enhance those opportunities.”

This story was originally published in The Missouri Independent, part of the States Newsroom.

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and state legislature as the Deputy Editor at The Missouri Independent.