Anheuser-Busch drops Holden, backs McCaskill for governor

Wednesday, October 8, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- In Missouri politics, it's roughly the equivalent of getting run over by the Budweiser Clydesdales: Gov. Bob Holden has lost the support of St. Louis-based brewer Anheuser-Busch, one of the state's wealthiest and most influential political voices.

Holden, a Democrat, said top executives at Anheuser-Busch wanted him to sign a bill allowing qualified adults to carry concealed guns. Instead Holden vetoed the bill, and state lawmakers overrode his decision and enacted the measure themselves.

Like getting run over by a team of draft horses, the political effect might not be fatal, but it sure smarts. Holden's likely Democratic primary challenger, Claire McCaskill, says the brewer's support is going to her.

"Anheuser-Busch has indicated they are no longer supporting me," Holden acknowledged in an interview. He stopped short of stating the reason, but added that many people with Anheuser-Busch wanted him to support the conceal and carry bill, " ... and I said no."

Messages left for Anheuser-Busch officials were not returned Tuesday.

McCaskill, currently Missouri's state auditor, is expected to announce the week of Oct. 20 that she is challenging Holden in the August 2004 Democratic primary. McCaskill has been raising money for months and already has begun assembling a campaign team.

She said she met two weeks ago with several of Anheuser-Busch's top officials, including chairman August A. Busch III and corporate group vice president Stephen K. Lambright.

"In my discussions with the executives of Anheuser-Busch, we talked about strong leadership, we talked about competent governing, we talked about a positive environment for business growth, and the top executives indicated at that meeting that they would support me against Governor Holden," McCaskill said.

"The subject of guns was never mentioned" at the initial meeting, McCaskill said. But she said it was discussed in a follow-up conversation with Lambright, during which McCaskill expressed opposition to concealed weapons but stressed that her father was a big sportsman and hunter and she was not "anti-gun." McCaskill said she didn't think the concealed gun issue was the main reason she won support against Holden.

Like Holden, McCaskill said she would have vetoed the bill. But that fact that legislators overrode three Holden vetoes on various bills -- matching the total number of overrides since the Civil War -- "speaks to leadership," or the lack thereof, she said.

Concealed guns have been a divisive issue in Missouri for years. In April 1999, Missouri voters narrowly rejected a ballot proposal that would have legalized hidden guns for the first time since the 1870s. But the legislature enacted a similar measure -- without referring it to another statewide vote -- when it overrode Holden's veto Sept. 11.

Missouri's new concealed guns law is to take effect Saturday, although opponents may try to block it with a court challenge.

Various Anheuser-Busch entities and officials contributed about $50,000 to Holden's gubernatorial campaign in 2000. But the company also gave a similar amount to his Republican challenger Jim Talent, and has a track record of supporting candidates from both parties.

Anheuser-Busch has been the largest corporate donor to Missouri's political parties during the past three election cycles, giving $371,600 to Republican Party committees and $352,650 to Democratic Party committees, according to the national Institute on Money in State Politics.

Like McCaskill, Holden's expected Republican challenger Matt Blunt also has won the backing of Anheuser-Busch.

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