As Tom Schweich launches his bid for the 2016 GOP gubernatorial nomination, he’s doing so as an outspoken critic of much of what the Missouri Republican Party has become.
And yet, he needs GOP votes.
The party, Schweich says, is dominated by one man, the wealthy party benefactor Rex Sinquefield.
It’s beholden to other special interests, too, and has often not acted on behalf of the vast majority of Missourians.
Party leaders have flaunted ethics laws, Schweich insisted, and he reels off several examples. “It’s like Ethics 101,” he said during his quick stop in Kansas City last week when he rolled out his campaign.
They’ve threatened to go too far with tax cuts, and the GOP has picked up a reputation as a “mean party,” Schweich said.
“What I’m seeing from my party is not good,” he said.
Tough talk, to be sure. But is this the way to curry favor with his fellow Republicans?
Schweich is gambling that rank-and-file Republicans are fed up, too, and that he will contrast favorably with his GOP primary opponent, Catherine Hanaway, a former House speaker who has received more than $900,000 in donations from Sinquefield.
But these days, evidence that Republicans are frustrated is tough to find.
The GOP is sustaining record majorities in the General Assembly. They control six of eight congressional seats and believe they’ve got a great chance to pick up statewide seats in 2016.
And lawmakers report a dearth of phone calls from constituents when it comes to concerns over Sinquefield and the state’s standing as the only one in America that permits unlimited campaign donations and unlimited lobbyist gifts.
Still, when voters have been asked to crack down on lawmakers through term limits or low-dollar strict campaign donations, they’ve done so in overwhelming numbers.
And Schweich himself has taken big money from other mega GOP donors, including former Ambassador Sam Fox.
Schweich rightly points out that his job as state auditor presents a strong platform from which to base a gubernatorial candidacy. Example 1A is Claire McCaskill, now a two-term state senator. Schweich can talk a lot about rooting out inefficiency and corruption and cracking down on wayward city and county governments all over the state.
But last week, he kept coming back to a single theme, and that is the lost-in-the-wilderness modern-day Missouri Republican Party.
“I don’t like the direction the...party is going now,” he said.
Will his fellow Republicans agree?
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