For the second time in a month, Missourians struggled Monday to understand the unfathomable — why a leading political figure in the state would take his own life.
Robert “Spence” Jackson, a prominent Republican spokesman and media liaison for more than a decade, was found dead Sunday night in the bedroom of his Jefferson City apartment.
He died from a single gunshot from a .357 Magnum revolver, police said. He left a note. Authorities consider the death a suicide.
They were unwilling Monday to officially tie Jackson’s death to that of his boss, former Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich, who shot himself Feb. 26. But politicians and consultants easily connected the two events.
Just as the furor surrounding Schweich’s death appeared to be subsiding, they said, Jackson’s likely suicide renews questions about the party’s rhetoric and political approach.
“The tragic event with Schweich, and now this one, will undoubtedly have Republicans talking about the civility of primary campaigns,” said Warren Erdman, a one-time GOP political strategist now in private industry, and one of the few Republicans willing to discuss Jackson’s death on the record.
That conversation seems certain to extend the one started four weeks ago today, at Schweich’s memorial service in Clayton, Mo.
In his eulogy, former U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth denounced an alleged whisper campaign against the auditor by GOP chairman John Hancock, who may have inaccurately described Schweich, who was a candidate for governor, as Jewish.
Danforth also called the producer of an anti-Schweich radio ad a “bully.” GOP consultant Jeff Roe was later linked to the message, which was sponsored by an obscure group called Citizens for Fairness in Missouri.
Danforth claimed both tactics contributed to Schweich’s suicide. Jackson echoed those views at the time, accusing opponents of taking the campaign for governor “straight into the gutter” and calling on Hancock to quit.
Other Republicans soon pushed back. They said there was no whisper campaign, and that the ad was within the bounds of normal political debate. Hancock refused to resign and remained on the job. Roe’s business did not suffer. Catherine Hanaway, linked by some to the anti-Schweich effort, re-started her campaign for governor.
Those outcomes disturbed Jackson, his friends said Monday, and may have played a role in his decision.
Jackson also may have been worried about his personal future, a friend said. Gov. Jay Nixon will soon appoint a permanent auditor, and Jackson — an often fierce Republican partisan — would have likely needed a new job.
Jackson’s thinking might be clarified by the note police say he left behind, but they declined to release its contents Monday.
They said they responded to a call from Jackson’s mother about 7 p.m. Sunday at the Jefferson City apartment where he lived alone. Jackson had taken a day off work Friday and had not been heard from since that day.
Police officers found him in the bedroom. Department spokesman Capt. Doug Shoemaker said Jackson likely died Friday or Saturday but that an autopsy would be needed to determine the precise time of death.
News of Jackson’s apparent suicide surfaced late Sunday, then lit up social media, websites and blogs for hours Monday morning.
One consultant said he was “stunned” by the news. “Like the Twilight Zone,” said another.
On Twitter, Hancock said: “Tragic news this morning. My heart goes out to Spence Jackson’s friends and family. Very, very sad.” He did not issue any other statements.
Hanaway said she was “deeply saddened” by the news. Roe did not respond to an email seeking comment.
In a statement, Missouri GOP spokesman Jonathon Prouty said, “Spence was an aggressive and successful communicator who spent years effectively advancing the Republican cause and the conservative agenda. We are saddened by his tragic death.”
In a statement, acting Missouri auditor John Watson said, “Mr. Jackson was a respected spokesman for the Auditor’s office and long-time servant in state government.”
Jackson was well-known to Missouri political reporters as a strong advocate for the candidates and office-holders he represented.
He served as a communications director for Matt Blunt when Blunt served as Missouri secretary of state, then joined Blunt’s campaign for governor in 2004 against Claire McCaskill.
He worked with Blunt as governor for a time before leaving the post. He became Schweich’s spokesman in October 2011.
In a statement, Blunt said, “Spence was hard-working, well-liked and quick-witted. He will truly be missed.”
The Star’s Steve Kraske contributed to this report.
To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To reach Jason Hancock, call 573-634-3565 or send email to email@example.com.