Government & Politics

Stakes high in races for Missouri lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer

Democrat Russ Carnahan
Democrat Russ Carnahan

There’s been an avalanche of national attention lately heaped upon Missouri’s campaigns for U.S. Senate and governor. The battle to become the state’s next attorney general isn’t far behind, with both candidates spending big to get their message out.

But despite getting far less attention, the stakes are just as high in a trio of down-ballot offices up for grabs this year.

In each of the races — for lieutenant governor, secretary of state and treasurer — Republicans hold fundraising advantages that give them a leg up on Democrats vying for offices that each play important roles in state government and often serve as a springboard to higher office.

But while Republicans are optimistic they can sweep all three races, Democrats have long enjoyed an advantage on the statewide ballot during presidential election years. And with the campaign of Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump faltering nationally, the outcome remains very much up in the air.

“It used to be you could book the outcome of down-ballot races by whoever won the governor’s race, and the governor’s race was closely tied to who won the presidential race,” said John Hancock, chairman of the Missouri Republican Party. “There’s a lot more ticket-splitting going on from top to bottom in Missouri now.”

Lieutenant governor

The office of lieutenant governor doesn’t come with a lot of responsibilities, mostly presiding over the Missouri Senate and serving on several boards and commissions. If the governor dies, the lieutenant governor assumes the office.

Three-term incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder decided against running for re-election, instead focusing on an unsuccessful bid for governor. Battling it out to replace him are the scion of a Missouri political dynasty and a veteran of state and local politics.

Russ Carnahan, 59, is the son of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan and former U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan, and the brother of former Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. He served four terms representing a St. Louis-based district in the U.S. Congress.

Mike Parson, 61, is a former Polk County sheriff who served three terms in the Missouri House before being elected to the Senate in 2010. He was re-elected in 2014.

According to their latest disclosure reports filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission, Parson has about $500,000 in cash on hand heading into the campaign’s home stretch, compared with only $200,000 for Carnahan.

The race has taken a negative turn in recent weeks, with Parson running a TV ad hitting Carnahan for a record in Congress supporting President Barack Obama and Carnahan responding with an ad featuring Parson’s former senate chief of staff criticizing him for taking gifts from lobbyists.

Secretary of state

The race to replace Democrat Jason Kander as Missouri’s chief elections officer features another member of a Missouri political dynasty versus a veteran St. Louis journalist.

Republican Jay Ashcroft, 43, is the son of former Missouri governor, U.S. senator and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. He’s an engineer and an attorney who has never held elected office. He ran unsuccessfully for the Missouri Senate in 2014.

Robin Smith, 62, worked as a television anchor and reporter in St. Louis for more than 40 years. She’s never held elected office, but served on the St. Louis University Board of Trustees for 12 years.

While the candidates differ on many issues, none is more high profile than a potential voter ID law.

Missouri Republicans passed legislation establishing a photo ID requirement to vote. But in order for the new law to be implemented, voters must approve a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot making the idea legal — a necessary step because the state Supreme Court deemed voter ID unconstitutional in 2006.

Ashcroft has been outspoken in his support of the idea, saying voter ID is needed to prevent election fraud. He insists that the law approved by Missouri lawmakers over the veto of Gov. Jay Nixon won’t disenfranchise any eligible voters.

Smith is a vehement opponent of voter ID, noting that there has never been a case of voter impersonation fraud in Missouri. Voter ID, she says, is simply a Republican strategy to target and disenfranchise voters who typically side with Democrats — college students, the poor and minority voters.

Ashcroft has raised $1.2 million for the campaign and has nearly $400,000 in cash on hand. Smith raised $600,000 and has $350,000 in cash on hand.


The state treasurer serves as the custodian for state funds, is responsible for holding unclaimed property and oversees administration of a state college savings plan, among other duties. Incumbent Treasurer Clint Zweifel, a Democrat, can’t run for re-election because of term limits.

Facing off for the office are Democrat Judy Baker, 56, and Republican Eric Schmitt, 41.

Baker served two terms in a Columbia-based Missouri House seat before running unsuccessfully in 2008 for U.S. Congress. She worked in Obama’s administration as a regional director of the Department of Health and Human Services, and then lost in a crowded Democratic primary for lieutenant governor in 2012.

Schmitt has served two terms in the Missouri Senate. Prior to his time in Jefferson City, he served as an alderman in the St. Louis suburb of Glendale. He is a partner at the law firm Lathrop & Gage LLP, where he focuses on land use, real estate, business disputes and administrative appeals.

Baker has said she would work to make it easier for Missouri taxpayers to know how our money is being spent, as well as establish a children’s savings account program to help them learn to start saving early and learn financial life skills.

She also would like to create low-interest loans for renewable energy businesses.

Schmitt has pledged to block any state investment in companies that do business with a country designated as a state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. State Department. That would include tax credits for Boeing Corp., one of the state’s largest employers, which has agreed to sell 80 passenger jets to Iran’s state-owned airline.

He also hopes to better promote the MOST program, which allows families to create tax-deferred college savings accounts.

Schmitt has a massive fundraising advantage, reporting more than $2.5 million in cash on hand, compared with only $350,000 for Baker.

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock