JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri State Treasurer Nancy Farmer said Friday that she will challenge Republican incumbent Kit Bond in the 2004 Senate race, filling the Democratic Party's void for a strong candidate in the election.
Farmer had met with Democratic leaders and potential contributors from across the nation before deciding to enter a race that at least two other statewide office holders had turned down.
"You get into races to win. So what others have looked at and concluded aside, we took a look at whether or not it was the right race for me," Farmer said. "It was very positive."
Farmer immediately began testing a campaign theme, blaming Bond for supporting economic policies that have swelled the national deficit and led to large job losses in Missouri. She stressed Missouri's requirement for a balanced budget and her own "conservative" financial management as treasurer.
"We can look to Washington for some of the problems we're having in Missouri -- our economy is in decline, we've lost 100,000 jobs, and the tax cuts President Bush has implemented have had a direct effect" on state government revenue, Farmer said.
Bond spokesman Ernie Blazar said the senator had no reaction to Farmer's candidacy or her criticism of Bond, adding, "He just doesn't comment on Democratic intraparty skirmishes."
But John Hancock, a consultant speaking for the Missouri Republican Party, praised Bond's record in office and dismissed Farmer as a political unknown. Republicans also have sought to link Farmer to Missouri's state budget troubles.
"Nancy Farmer was the last in a long line of Democrats who were begged and pleaded with to run for this position by the Democratic Party," Hancock said. "Kit Bond has a higher favorable rating today than there are people who know who Nancy Farmer is, and I suspect that will hold through election day."
Bond, 64, already has $2.8 million on hand for a re-election campaign to his fourth Senate term. Farmer will be starting from scratch, since she cannot transfer money that was collected for a treasurer's office race.
Farmer said she hopes to raise $7 million to $10 million but doesn't expect to match Bond's fund-raising power.
Farmer, 46, of St. Louis, won 52 percent of the vote in the 2000 state treasurer's race to defeat Republican Todd Graves.
Her election as state treasurer marked the first time a woman has served as Missouri's chief financial officer.
Political scientists described Farmer as a formidable yet underdog candidate against Bond.
"I think she will be a strong candidate," said David Webber, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. But "she has an uphill fight, that's for sure. I don't think there's anything in particular that's changed in the past six years that would make (Bond) more vulnerable than he was when he was re-elected."
Bond won 53 percent of the vote in defeating Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon in the 1998 Senate race.
From a Democratic perspective, "there's always hope, but it's hope because (Bond's victory) margins are not that strong," said Terry Jones, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "It's not hope because he is highly vulnerable."
Polling conducted by Decision Research on behalf of Farmer showed that most people had not heard of her, whereas a majority had at least a somewhat favorable opinion of Bond. But Farmer said the recognition gap can largely be covered by a well-run campaign during the next year.
Farmer is likely to face some opposition in an August 2004 Democratic primary. Political newcomer Charles E. Berry, a St. Louis lawyer, already is in the Democratic Senate race but has raised little money.