Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Party in Search of a Candidate

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Party in Search of a Candidate

Article excerpt

WANTED: A CERTIFIED public accountant willing to work long hours for no pay. Chance of advancement in November 1994, with first paycheck possible in January 1995.

Preference given to applicants with wealthy acquaintances.

So far, Missouri Democrats have no candidate willing to run against nine-year incumbent Auditor Margaret Kelly, the only Republican now holding statewide office.

"It's a problem and we're working on it," said state Democratic chairman Gene Bushmann. "All of the likely candidates have backed out for personal reasons."

That includes the Democrat favored by some party regulars, former state Rep. Travis Morrison, D-West Plains. He narrowly lost to Kelly in 1986 and said last winter that he was considering another go at the job.

But Morrison said Tuesday that he's out, for family and financial reasons. He has five children, including two in college, and is co-owner of a ready-mix cement firm. The problem is timing, not Kelly, Morrison said.

Democratic leaders insist they'll have a strong candidate shortly - one with good qualifications, the stamina to run a long campaign and the connections to raise campaign money. State Democratic executive director Richard Martin said Tuesday that several hopefuls have surfaced in recent days, and he hopes to have a candidate by mid-November.

Cole County Auditor Jim LePage is among those taking a look. LePage lost a bid last year for the Democratic nomination for state treasurer. He says it will take at least $500,000 to beat Kelly. LePage added, "The auditor's office is not one of those glamour positions. But it's one of the most crucial."

Crucial for politicians, political parties and the public. (The state auditor also earns about $18,000 more a year than the lieutenant governor.)

From a political standpoint, the job has become a stepping stone for higher office. Kelly's two Republican predecessors - Kit Bond and John Ashcroft - went on to be elected governor. The former now is a U.S. senator and the latter hopes to be elected one next year.

Why is it such a plum job? For the same reason it's important to the public. Missouri's auditor has the power to audit every governmental body in the state - from a state department to, say, a municipal water district. …

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