In 2010, political rookie Tom Schweich won a tough Republican primary for Missouri auditor, then defeated an incumbent Democrat to win the job.
Four years later, Schweich was considered so unbeatable Democrats didn’t bother finding an opponent for him.
Friends stunned at Schweich’s apparent suicide said Thursday he was not a natural politician — back-slapping and glad-handing did not come easily to him.
But he made up for those potential deficits with hard work and a fierce intelligence that made him a significant figure in the state’s politics.
“He was phenomenally smart,” said Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd. “He was incredibly well-prepared … He made up for whatever shortcomings he had with literally being the smartest guy in the room.”
That intelligence was apparent early.
He was a product of the public schools in St. Louis County, earning an undergraduate degree at Yale and a law degree from Harvard. He came to the attention of then-U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth, one of the state’s leading Republicans, and worked for him as an intern.
Schweich served as chief of staff for a committee that investigated the shootings at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993.
Later he served as chief of staff for three U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations and worked in the State Department, where he was assigned to coordinate an anti-drug initiative in Afghanistan.
But he turned his attention to elective politics in 2010, at the urging of Danforth and others. He sought the state auditor’s job in part because it’s considered a launching pad for ambitious politicians in the state.
He made headlines as auditor. In his first term, he sued Gov. Jay Nixon, alleging that the Democrat had improperly managed state budget shortfalls. He issued audits that were sharply critical of several state agencies — just this month an audit attacked budget and spending practices in the St. Joseph School District.
Schweich planned to make alleged state corruption a centerpiece of his 2016 campaign for governor.
“I see corruption at all levels,” he said on election night in November. “The very Capitol … is overrun with special interests that have completely corrupted that government.”
Schweich brought that campaign to Kansas City last weekend, meeting with Republicans gathered for their party’s annual Reagan-Lincoln meeting. He delivered a rousing speech, attendees said, and seemed enthusiastic for the governor’s race ahead.
But the GOP convention buzzed last Friday about a radio ad that compared Schweich with TV star Don Knotts, and suggested that Schweich could not win the general election.
Republicans said the ad showed how tough the race would be.
If Schweich was bothered by the spot, though, he didn’t let many attendees know.