Hopefuls for statewide offices start to emerge

Friday, August 29, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- With the five statewide executive branch offices on next year's ballot all held by incumbents eligible for re-election, the prospects for hotly contested races in 2004 once looked dim.

Now that three of those officials have decided to move on, the situation has become more interesting.

Secretary of State Matt Blunt, the lone executive branch Republican, and State Treasurer Nancy Farmer, a Democrat, are both seeking higher office. On Tuesday, Democratic Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell announced he would forgo re-election because his wife is suffering from a serious illness that has defied diagnosis.

The turn of events works to the GOP's advantage, said Scott Baker, a Missouri Republican Party spokesman.

"If Democrats had one thing going for them, it was that they had incumbents down ticket," Baker said.

Instead of having four incumbents defending their seats, Democrats now will have just two -- Gov. Bob Holden and Attorney General Jay Nixon.

With Holden likely facing a primary challenge from State Auditor Claire McCaskill, the possibility exists for Nixon, who has yet to draw a prominent opponent, to be the only incumbent on the general election ballot. McCaskill was re-elected auditor last year to a term that runs until January 2007.

Democratic confidence

The Missouri Democratic Party is confident of maintaining its executive branch dominance, even without several incumbents on the ticket, spokesman Mike Kelley said.

"There is a fresh supply of new, young, well-energized Democrats for these races," Kelley said.

Potential candidates from both parties are still weighing their political options. Filing for statewide office doesn't open until late February.

With Blunt the probable Republican standard bearer for governor, two prominent women GOP lawmakers are thinking of running for secretary of state -- House Speaker Catherine Hanaway of Warson Woods and state Sen. Sarah Steelman of Rolla.

Robin Carnahan of St. Louis, the daughter of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan and former U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan, is a known Democratic hopeful.

Although Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder of Cape Girardeau is the most high-profile Republican entry for lieutenant governor, Baker said former state Rep. Pat Secrest of Manchester is also pursuing the nomination.

Since Maxwell had been expected to run until this week's surprise announcement, a Democratic contender hasn't yet emerged. Based on Kelley's rhetoric, the party clearly sees Kinder as the likely GOP nominee.

"We'll find a candidate who is able to beat Peter Kinder and his extremist agenda," Kelley said.

Several Republicans are looking at the open state treasurer's race.

Among them are state Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer of St. Elizabeth and Brad Roark of Springfield plus St. Louis businessman Tom Klein.

On the Democratic side, Public Service Commission chairman Kelvin Simmons and Arnold Mayor Mark Powell have both expressed interest.

Farmer, the incumbent, last month announced she would challenge three-term Republican U.S. Sen. Kit Bond.

Baker said the field of candidates for the various posts is far from finalized.

"There certainly will be more names surface as we go along," Baker said.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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