COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Former Gov. Roger Wilson said he has accepted gubernatorial nominee Claire McCaskill's offer to be the next chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party.
"I played a lot of football, and you cannot carry the ball halfway there, so I am pleased to accept this invitation from Claire," Wilson told The Associated Press on Thursday.
McCaskill's campaign confirmed Wilson's appointment, releasing a statement in which McCaskill said the former party chairwoman, May Scheve Reardon, will be "taking on new responsibilities" with the Democrats' coordinated campaign efforts statewide.
Reardon served by appointment of Gov. Bob Holden, but his defeat for renomination by McCaskill, the state auditor, in Tuesday's Democratic primary put McCaskill in command of the state organization.
Wilson, one of Missouri's most popular political figures who counts independents and Republicans among his backers, was among the earliest prominent Democrats to endorse McCaskill's insurgent challenge to Holden.
"I am thrilled that Governor Wilson has agreed to lead the Missouri Democratic Party," McCaskill said in the statement.
Wilson served as master of ceremonies Thursday evening while introducing Holden, McCaskill and the rest of Missouri's newly nominated Democratic ticket for statewide office during a Jefferson City campaign rally for the Democrats' presidential ticket, John Kerry and John Edwards.
"You all have been through a tough primary process. We understand that; that's part of the democratic process," Kerry said to the crowd, many of whom wore stickers supporting his candidacy.
"Thanks to the grace and the courage and the sense of priorities of Bob Holden, and thanks to the sense of direction of Claire McCaskill, this is a united Democratic party in Missouri," Kerry said.
Kerry, vice presidential running mate John Edwards, McCaskill and Holden later raised their hands together symbolizing victory -- and unity.
A Columbia native, Wilson, 55, served as a state senator and two terms as lieutenant governor before being thrust into the chief executive's job when Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan died in an Oct. 16, 2000, plane crash while campaigning for the U.S. Senate.
Wilson, who had already planned to retire from politics before Carnahan's death, served as governor for about three months before the January 2001 inauguration of Holden.
Since leaving elected office, Wilson has worked for a private investment company.
"I have tried to help several Democratic candidates individually, but this chairmanship never crossed my mind, so it's great," Wilson said.
McCaskill had already named an aide from the auditor's office, Corey Dillon, to serve as the party's new executive director in Missouri.
Wilson said Holden had already made it easier to unify the party with his swift election-night endorsement of McCaskill.
"It was a large, generous gesture by Bob, and I know his supporters will take their cue from him to get together and win this November," Wilson said.
Reardon was paid as the state party chairwoman. Wilson said he will accept reimbursement for some expenses but not a salary.