Nicole Galloway is starting to sound like a candidate for governor.
Speaking Saturday night at the annual Jackson County Democrats’ Truman Dinner at Arrowhead Stadium, the Democratic state auditor hammered Republican Gov. Mike Parson on a litany of issues – from compliance with the state’s Sunshine Law to his support for overturning voter-approved ballot measures.
She saved her most withering critique, however, for a new law Parson recently signed that criminalizes abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy, with no exception for victims of rape or incest.
“Until now, a survivor of rape could decide what came next,” Galloway said. “Gov. Parson has taken that choice away from women, and instead a survivor must accept that her rapist could have parental rights.”
She followed up her speech with an Op-Ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she said Parson and his fellow Republicans were “giving new rights and opportunities to rapists.”
Galloway, 36, a Columbia CPA who was appointed auditor by Gov. Jay Nixon in 2015 after the death of Republican Tom Schweich, won her first full term last year.
She is the only Democratic statewide officeholder in Missouri, a distinction that makes her the clear frontrunner for the party’s gubernatorial nomination in 2020 – if she decides to jump into the race.
So far, she’s remained silent about her intentions.
But those close to her told The Star this week that she is leaning toward a run, and that Missouri’s eight-week abortion ban may be the factor that tips the scales.
“It would be fair to say that she is very seriously considering challenging the governor,” a source close to Galloway with knowledge of her thinking told The Star. “His extreme position on women’s health has certainly influenced her thinking about a potential challenge.”
The only other Democrat to express public interest in the race so far is state Sen. Scott Sifton, a Democrat from St. Louis County.
While she remains coy about her 2020 intentions, Galloway’s rhetoric seems geared toward a statewide campaign for governor.
“We have to hold them accountable,” Galloway said Saturday night about Parson and his fellow Republicans. “You’ll have a chance to do that at the ballot box.
Parson, who hasn’t formally announced whether he will run in 2020, has been outspoken in his defense of the new abortion law, telling reporters last month that “all life has value to it, all life does.”
“Everybody,” Parson added, “has a right to life.”
His office declined to comment on Galloway’s speech.
How abortion will factor into 2020 remains to be seen.
A recent survey, conducted by the Republican firm Remington Research Group, found a majority of Missourians polled consider themselves “pro-life.”
But the results flip when the question becomes, “Would you support a ban on abortion in Missouri with no exceptions for rape and incest?” Fifty-four percent said they oppose a ban with no exceptions, including 42 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of independents.
Fifty-one percent would support a ban on abortion in Missouri if exceptions for rape and incest were included, including 39 percent of Democrats polled.
Complicating the 2020 landscape for Republicans is that one of the party’s most prolific donors – Joplin businessman David Humphreys – has promised to bankroll a referendum campaign aimed at repealing the abortion law.
Humphreys and his family have donated more than $15 million to various GOP candidates and campaigns over the last four years. He shocked the Missouri political world when he recently spoke out against the law, saying its lack of protections for victims of rape and incest shook him from his silence.
“This legislation’s impact reflects bad public policy with negative consequences for Missourians,” he said.
Even President Donald Trump, who won Missouri by 19-percentage points in 2016, recently spoke out against abortion bans that don’t exempt victims of rape and incest.
Democrats are seizing on the abortion law as a possible path out of political exile, hoping that the measure will be viewed as too extreme in swing suburban districts where the GOP has dominated over the last decade.
But the party was equally bullish about its chances in 2018, when it joined with organized labor to put a repeal of the GOP-approved right-to-work law on the ballot.
Right-to-work was overwhelmingly repealed by voters, but Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill still lost two months later. And Democrats didn’t gain any ground in the state legislature.
If Galloway ultimately decides to run, she made it clear Saturday night that the lack of exemptions for rape and incest will be front and center of her campaign.
“Gov. Mike Parson has spoken loudly and clearly,” Galloway said in her speech Saturday night. “He wants rapists in Missouri to have more power over their victims. He wants a woman’s decision over her healthcare to be criminalized. These positions are both extreme and cruel.”
Galloway even invoked Todd Akin, the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate in 2012 who lost to Claire McCaskill after he told an interviewer that victims of “legitimate rape” very rarely get pregnant because their bodies prevent them from doing so.
“Instead of being considered and trusted, Gov. Parson has delivered the women of Missouri another dose of Todd Akin,” she said. “This time, it’s not just rhetoric, it’s the law.”
Parson, a former sheriff and longtime state legislator from Bolivar, was elected lieutenant governor in 2016. He became governor last June following the resignation of Republican Eric Greitens, who was forced to step down in the face of criminal charges and possible impeachment.
During his year as governor, Parson has won praise from Republicans and Democrats for steadying state government after the scandal-plagued Greitens administration.
But Galloway said being better than Greitens isn’t enough.
“When it comes to your state government,” she said, “when it comes to secrecy and corruption, simply not being as awful as Eric Greitens is too low of a standard to strive for.”
Jean Evans, a former state lawmaker serving as executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, took to Twitter to defend the governor Tuesday afternoon.
She noted that the legislature passed a bill last year allowing a court terminate the parental rights of a biological father if the mother can present clear and convincing evidence that the father raped her, that the child was conceived as a result of the rape and that termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the child.
Parson would begin any campaign with a significant financial edge.
His candidate committee reported raising $200,000 during the first three months of 2019, ending the quarter with a little more than $1 million cash on hand.
His real advantage is Uniting Missouri, a political action committee formed by supporters on his behalf that is not bound by the state’s campaign contribution limits.
Uniting Missouri reported raising $353,000 during the first three months of 2019, ending the quarter with nearly $2.3 million cash on hand. Since April, it has taken in another $340,000 in large donations that have to be reported to the state ethics commission immediately.
Galloway raised only $115,000 during the first three months of 2019, ending the quarter with $65,000 cash on hand.
But if she jumps into the race for governor, it appears that national money will be available.
A spokesman for EMILY’s List, a national progressive organization dedicated to electing women, told The Star the group is “monitoring the race closely,” specifically noting its past support for Galloway.
EMILY’s List played a major role in Kansas last year, pouring more than $1 million into the state to help Democrat Sharice Davids win her party’s nomination and then defeat four-term incumbent Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder – the first time a Democrat won the suburban Kansas City Congressional seat in a decade.
Galloway, who would remain auditor until 2022 even if she ran and lost a race for governor next year, could benefit from a similar influx of cash.
“We are always excited to see women interested in stepping up to take on these important races,” said Benjamin Ray, spokesman for EMILY’s List.
McClatchy’s Bryan Lowry contributed to this story.