Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Danner Looks for Opening to Press His Challenge

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Danner Looks for Opening to Press His Challenge

Article excerpt

STATE SEN. STEVE Danner, D-Hale, and his mother, U.S. Rep. Pat Danner, D-Smithville, have reputations as incumbent-slayers. He has beaten one, and she has beaten two.

That's why some expect the contest between Steve Danner and state Auditor Margaret Kelly to erupt before Election Day.

"Everybody's wondering why he's not doing any campaigning," says Rep. Dale Whiteside, who lives near Danner's farm in northern Missouri. Whiteside, R-Chillicothe, guesses that Danner is "saving it all 'til the last couple weeks and is going to try to discredit Margaret Kelly."

Actually, Danner has been trying to discredit Kelly for months - he's just had trouble getting much attention.

He has tried to rekindle the Second Injury Fund controversy, accusing Kelly of overlooking the scandal because her husband worked in the attorney general's office under Republican William Webster. But that issue may have lost its punch for Democrats after a summer of headlines about the blunders of Secretary of State Judith K. Moriarty, a Democrat.

Danner's latest charge - that Kelly tried to influence who got a contract to audit her office in 1991 - relies on vague computer messages that a researcher dug up in the state archives. Kelly's spokesman, Frank Ybarra, says the messages show only that Kelly was trying to save tax dollars and avoid duplicating an audit that the Legislature commissioned.

Tom Baumgardner, a stockbroker in Columbia, represents the ambivalence many voters feel toward the auditor's race. Asked his favorite candidate, he says: "I don't care. That's one office that ought to be eliminated" as an elective post.

Danner says the office could be "a bully pulpit for change in government." He promises he would release audits in a more timely manner, beef up their content by evaluating the effectiveness of state agencies and help local governments implement audit recommendations.

Danner, 41, is known for his ambition and aggressiveness. In the last 14 years, he has been an aide to the House speaker, a state representative, an administrative law judge, deputy lieutenant governor and a state senator.

He has moved from Jefferson City to Chillicothe to Jefferson City to Kirksville to Carroll County. During redistricting, one colleague in the Senate nicknamed him "the senator from Winnebago" because of his mobility.

Jackson County Prosecutor Claire McCaskill has known Danner since both were elected to the House in 1982.

"Some people think his successes are due to being in the right place at the right time, and people that think that underestimate him," she says. "He's very smart, very strategic in the way he goes about his work."

Danner says he's been campaigning since he was 5, when he helped his mother pass out Democratic leaflets in Macon County. Pat Danner headed the Macon County Democratic Central Committee in the late 1960s and early 1970s. …

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