(Laura Simon) [Order this photo]
Monday afternoon amid a whirlwind of campaign stops intended to shore up his position as GOP front-runner.
Over the past week, the St. Louis County businessman and first-time candidate has crisscrossed the state with stops in Kansas City, Columbia, Springfield, Warrensburg, Joplin and others.
"You can't expect to gain momentum by standing still," Spence said. "We've visited each of Missouri's 114 counties, and we're trying to shotgun back to as many counties as we can again before the primary."
On Monday, about 15 of the party faithful attended the 90-minute "meet and greet" at My Daddy's Cheesecake. Shortly before the small crowd arrived, Spence reiterated his claim that his business acumen and real-world experience makes him the best candidate to move into the governor's mansion in January. He continues to point to the 26 years he owned Alpha Packaging, which he led from a small plastic-packaging company to one with an annual business of $200 million.
On Aug. 7, Spence hopes to best his main primary opponent, Kansas City-area lawyer Bill Randles, 49. But Spence barely mentions him or the other lesser known candidates by name, instead focusing on Gov. Jay Nixon. Spence describes the Democratic incumbent as a 20-year career politician who has allowed Missouri to plummet to last in the nation for job creation and the state's labor force to shrink by more than 87,000.
Spence, 54, touted his intention to push Missouri into the ranks of 22 other states that do not require people to pay union dues as a condition of employment. Like Randles, Spence wants to pass civil court reform legislation, and both have spoken out against the use of tax credits.
If elected, Spence said, he would focus on the state's small businesses. He has said he would personally call small-business owners and executives to identify their problems and find solutions. He also hopes to maximize agricultural exports, increase tourism and make Missouri a national transportation infrastructure leader.
But state Democrats continue to hammer Spence for initially mischaracterizing his college major on his resume and have zoomed in on Spence's involvement with St. Louis-based Reliance Bancshares. Spence was on the bank's board when it decided it couldn't repay $40 million from the federal government's Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. The latter issue has united Spence's opponents and Democrats in their criticism of Spence, saying it's a contradiction with his platform of reining in business incentives.
Spence explained his actions Monday, saying that he voted along with the rest of the board to not repay the program on the advice of federal regulators. His decision came only after he struggled to help keep the bank in the black, efforts that included the loss of his personal investment. Later, Spence borrowed money from the bank to buy a vacation home. Spence resigned from the board nearly a year before he announced his candidacy.
The Missouri Democratic Party found Spence's explanation less than satisfactory Monday.
"This is pretty rich," party spokesman Isaac Wright said. "Dave Spence took a $40 million bank bailout from Washington, got himself a million-dollar vacation home with the money, refused to repay the taxpayers and now he wants us to think he's the victim here?"
Wright said Spence's claim about Missouri's economy is not true, saying that businesses here have created thousands of jobs this year. The state's unemployment rate is well below the national average, Wright said.
Still, Spence has significant support among the state's conservative voters. Spence pointed to a recent poll showing he was chosen by 41 percent of the GOP voters surveyed, with Randles coming in second with just 15 percent. The poll's results show Spence tailing Nixon by only nine points, which Spence said put him within striking distance come November.
265 S. Broadview St., Cape Girardeau, MO