The Missouri state auditor’s post has been a launching pad for politicians with higher aspirations like Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and former GOP Sen. Kit Bond. But this year, Democrats concede they won’t field a serious candidate against incumbent Republican Auditor Tom Schweich — sparking questions about the strength of the party’s bench in the red-trending swing state.
Schweich may also be using his position to mount a bid for higher office in 2016, making Democrats’ historic failure to recruit an opponent for Schweich even more costly.
“The reality is we believed we had a candidate who withdrew mid-cycle, so people who might have otherwise taken a hard look at it didn’t get that chance. So you were asking people to make decisions relatively quickly,” Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Roy Temple said in an interview. “We weren’t successful in finding a serious challenger.”
State Rep. Jay Swearingen, a North Kansas City Democrat, bowed out of the race in January, saying that he wanted to step aside for a Democrat who was better able to raise money for the contest.
Democrats last held the post in 2010, when Schweich defeated incumbent Susan Montee.
In an interview, Schweich said he was “pleased that for the first time in over a century the Democrats have failed to field a Democrat for a statewide seat in Missouri.” But he said he wasn’t sure if that was due to their lack of credible candidates, or his own fundraising strength.
“I think Missouri is basically a conservative state,” he said. “Governor [Mitt] Romney won by 9 or 10 points and we lost 5 out of 6 statewide elections in 2012 for a variety of reasons that had nothing to do with the people of Missouri disagreeing with us.”
Temple pushed back against the idea that the Democrats lack talent that could ascend to top offices such as the U.S. Senate or the governor’s mansion, saying that there’s an “extraordinary talent base on the Democratic side.”
“We have very serious stars in Attorney General [Chris] Koster, State Treasurer Clint Zweifel, Secretary of State Jason Kander,” he said. “You have a two-term governor who has plenty of political energy left in his tank. There are skillful and talented politicians distributed widely around the rest of the state.”