The two Republican candidates for Missouri attorney general intensely dislike each other. There is proof on a television near you.
The nasty and expensive contest marked by ethics complaints against each other is being waged by Kurt Schaefer, chairman of the state Senate Appropriations Committee, and Josh Hawley, a University of Missouri law professor on leave for this campaign.
Seeking to win the Aug. 2 primary, Hawley in a TV ad uses old footage of Schaefer declaring himself a “moderate.”
The way many recent Missouri races for Republicans have gone, the moderate label — denied now by Schaefer — could harm his chances of winning next month. Meanwhile, Hawley calls himself a consistent constitutional conservative.
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In addition, a political action committee that supports Hawley is running TV ads attacking Schaefer for supporting legislation that allowed a Chinese-owned firm to purchase Missouri farmland. The ad ends with images of Schaefer, a Chinese flag and a little girl waving an American flag as an announcer questions: “Whose side is he on?’’
Not to be outdone in the labeling category, Schaefer has accused Hawley of representing a terrorist who was known as “the American Taliban.”
Hawley insists that he did not represent the “terrorist,” saying his name was included by mistake on a lawsuit. Former Sen. Jack Danforth has denounced the ad as false.
But Schaefer has continued making the charge and has doubled down by accusing Hawley of making the legal case that the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran should not be listed as a terrorist organization.
Hawley supporters note that Sen. Roy Blunt, former Sen. Kit Bond and former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, among others, contend that while the Mojahedin Organization was once on the U.S. enemies’ list, it has long been recognized as an American ally in fighting terrorism.
This kind of TV blitz takes money. Lots of it. But it also confuses voters who need to know the candidates’ stand on real issues facing the state and what policies they would follow in overseeing the 180-plus attorneys who work in the attorney general’s office.
Both candidates run the risk of appearing bought and paid for because each has received the bulk of his campaign funds from a single source.
Retired St. Louis investor Rex Sinquefield has directed more than $2 million to Schaefer.
Joplin businessman David Humphreys and his family have donated at least $1.75 million to Hawley.
Schaefer has a long resume that includes various jobs in state government, including assistant attorney general. But his accomplishments have come with a price. Observers say his bullying and browbeating actions as appropriations chair should concern voters.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James and local business leaders had to go to Jefferson City earlier this year to defend the city’s 1 percent earnings tax when Schaefer mounted a sudden bid to end it. Fortunately, James and Co. prevailed, and voters made the right call in April to extend the tax.
Schaefer takes pride in his record and labels Hawley an out-of-touch law professor who has no experience as a prosecutor in the courtroom.
Hawley counters that his lack of political experience is a plus. He says it will take an outsider to clean up corruption in Jefferson City.
The Democratic primary
Meanwhile, it is much calmer in the Democratic contest on the Aug. 2 ballot.
Jake Zimmerman, St. Louis County assessor, has been running introductory TV ads that stress he favors “fairness” — equal treatment for all Missouri citizens whatever their status or position.
He cites his work as assistant attorney general to protect consumers from misleading cellphone bills. As assessor he takes credit for taking on casinos — and winning — when he says they were not paying their fair share of taxes in St. Louis County.
Zimmerman was an effective and productive member of the Missouri House of Representatives and served a year as a high-ranking member of Gov. Bob Holden’s staff.
Teresa Hensley, who served as Cass County prosecutor for 10 years, has not started running TV ads.
Hensley, who ran unsuccessfully for the 4th District congressional seat in 2012, says her experience in prosecuting criminal cases, including murder and sexual assault, mean she is in good position to direct staff lawyers who work with county prosecutors in such cases.
The winners of each primary will square off in the Nov. 8 general election. One near-certainty is that the GOP candidate will be able to mount a well-financed campaign for the office.