Auditor raises election profile
Wednesday, January 2, 2002
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- State workers spending lavishly on lunches and dinners. Transportation employees testing their heavy machinery skills in state-funded contests. The state Water Patrol with more boats and vehicles than employees.
Those are just some of the targets of Democratic State Auditor Claire McCaskill, who has been highlighting what she considers government waste and abuse since taking office in January 1999.
With each audit, McCaskill also has been building valuable political capital and raising her profile in what could become a run at higher office in the next few years. She readily acknowledges that she is considering a campaign for governor in 2008.
First, however, McCaskill has to win a second four-year term as auditor in the 2002 election. Besides a special election for the U.S. Senate, the auditor's office is the only statewide position up for grabs this year.
In 1998, McCaskill defeated Republican Chuck Pierce 50 percent to 46 percent out of more than 1.5 million votes cast.
McCaskill, a former Jackson County prosecutor and member of the state House, has produced more than 400 audits since she was elected. Naturally, she concedes, the audits are going to increase her visibility during a re-election campaign.
"I think we're in pretty good shape. I think what people expect is for candidates to be straightforward about what they are going to do," McCaskill said. "I feel comfortable that we have done exactly what we said we were going to do."
Stepping on toes
There is little doubt that her audits have caused hard feelings and possibly stepped on the toes of potential political contributors, McCaskill said.
For example, McCaskill said an audit critical of nursing home care may have cost her, but she makes no apologies for a job she calls a "negative exercise" in many cases.
Scott Baker, a spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party, said the GOP is searching for a challenger who can counter McCaskill's healthy output of audits.
"She has been very aggressive, but if we can find a strong candidate that can connect with voters, that can be a key factor," Baker said.
McCaskill's numerous audits may turn off some voters, who view them as mere evidence of her political ambitions, Baker said.
"People understand that some of things she does is for down the road in her political career," Baker said. "She has been up front about wanting to move to bigger and better things and that state auditor is just a stepping stone. People may not appreciate that."
McCaskill said her audits naturally result in publicity and positive reactions from potential voters since she tackles areas of public interest.
"Really, the power of this office is audit selection," she said. "Now, if we make a good decision about what to audit, people are going to be interested in it. And if we audit things that people care about, then people write about them. It's not like we're sitting around thinking about what audit will get the most press."
One potential Republican challenger to McCaskill is state Sen. Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, who told The Associated Press that he had been asked to consider a campaign.
"I have been approached about it, but I don't know. I'm kind of lukewarm to the idea because I just got elected to the Senate and I'm in a position to make positive changes for the state," Gibbons said.
Gibbons can challenge McCaskill knowing a loss would still leave him in the Senate. Yet he conceded that it would be a hard race.
"She is the incumbent and she has been an active auditor," Gibbons said. "I think she would be a formidable opponent."