Two months before Election Day, most candidates are preparing for the final push of campaigning. But when Ryan Asbridge, 31, spoke to his campaign staff last month to discuss the direction of the campaign for the next several weeks, it was to formulate a very different kind of strategy.
Asbridge, a reserve intelligence officer for the U.S. Navy, had been activated for duty. He told his campaign staff that he would be out of the country on Election Day. He could not tell them where he was going or how long he would be gone. That information was classified. His main concern was how to continue his campaign for the 25th District seat in the Missouri House from abroad.
Campaign manager Jeremy Cover said because Asbridge ran unopposed in the primary, the candidate had made plenty of plans for the general election campaign and regretted being unable to implement them himself.
"He gave us all the information he had, as far as phone numbers, dates, ideas and e-mails," Cover said. "Mostly, he wanted us to do what we could to get his name and message out there."
But despite the logistical difficulties of running an absentee campaign, Asbridge never considered dropping his bid for the House seat. Leaving the country, he argued, didn't change anything about the message of his campaign or his commitment to the people of the 25th District.
"Even with him not being here, he thought staying in the race was the right thing to do. He felt it was better that we tried without him than not trying at all," Cover said.
Campaign manager Yancy Williams agreed. "He invested a lot of time and energy into the campaign," he said. "We discussed what we thought would be best, and he gave us an overall picture of where he wanted the campaign to go."
Friends say Asbridge is quiet but very focused on his work and intent on serving the people of his hometown.
"He's a shy person, although he can be aggressive when he needs to be," Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, said. Robb knows Asbridge through a mutual friend and through his work with Ducks Unlimited.
"He's a wonderful person, he's got a great sense of humor," Robb said. "I don't know how he does what he does. He was studying for the bar exam, running for office and going to law school all at once."
Asbridge is a native Columbian and a graduate of Rock Bridge High School. Asbridge earned three degrees from MU: a bachelor's degree in educational studies in 1999; a master's of education in 2002 and a juris doctorate in May. Asbridge filed his candidacy for the House in February while he was still a full-time law student.
"Ryan is, first of all, from Columbia," Cover said, "He's lived here for a while and has a real connection with the city. He really cares about people in the area."
Williams, who met Asbridge in 1996, said the candidate has always been a great friend.
"He's always trying to help others," Williams said. "He's truly the guy you could call at 2 a.m., and he would hop out of bed and help you, no question."
"He's just a really good guy," said campaign volunteer Keith Moum, Asbridge's longtime friend. "And he cares about the 25th District."
According to his Web site, he is a member of Calvary Episcopal Church and serves as All-Star coordinator and board member for the Daniel Boone Little League. He is also a committee member for the Columbia Chapter of Ducks Unlimited and a member of the U.S. Naval Institute, the National Rifle Association, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Farm Bureau and the Holmes Brigade Union Civil War Reenactors.
Asbridge also has a personal stake in Columbia's schools. With undergraduate and graduate degrees in education, Asbridge has been involved in Columbia Public Schools for 11 years. He has four years of experience as a classroom teacher and three years in elementary education, and he has worked as a reading specialist, a substitute teacher and an administrative assistant. He has also coached basketball at Rock Bridge High School and at the junior high level. Asbridge coaches basketball part-time at Jefferson Junior High now.
Asbridge has some political experience. He served as an intern in the offices of U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., and of state Rep. David Levin, R-St. Louis. He also worked for former state Sen. John Cauthourn, R-Mexico, where he spent his time working on rural education initiatives and constituent services.
Because of Asbridge's background in education, public schools and education reform are the heart of his campaign. In a July interview, Asbridge told the Missourian that working toward consensus on public education issues would be among his priorities in the General Assembly.
“When you turn education into a political weapon, everybody loses,” he said. “(But) there’s no bones about the fact that I’m willing to disagree with my party, and I’m willing to be my own person and make decisions based on what I think is best, regardless of what everyone else is telling me to do.”
Keith Moum, who has been friends with Asbridge since high school, said education reform is the issue Asbridge is most passionate about.
"He's interested in improving education in Columbia and keeping MU at a stellar level," Moum said. "He figured out from being a teacher and a student in this community that improving education was the way to propel the community forward at all levels."
Asbridge's desire to serve the community was one of the reasons he decided to return to school to pursue a law degree. His legal training and knowledge, Cover said, makes Asbridge uniquely qualified to work as a legislator.
"He's been trained to read and interpret the law in a way that other people aren't," he said.
Asbridge was commissioned as a Navy intelligence officer shortly after beginning law school.
"He takes his career in the Navy very seriously,” Williams said. “Those positions are rare. He spends significantly more time than one weekend a month.”
Robb, whose son was in the U.S. Army, said he has great respect for Asbridge. "I really admire him for what he's doing. I appreciate anyone who will put his life on hold to serve our country."
Moum, now a student at Columbia College, served in the Army from 2003 to 2006 and was deployed to Baghdad and Balad Air Force Base. As a volunteer for the Asbridge campaign, Moum created a Facebook candidate page for Asbridge. He also started a Facebook group called "Veterans for Asbridge."
"There are a lot of young people coming back from combat now, and I wanted to get the word out," he said.
The group has 19 members; Asbridge's other Facebook group, "Ryan Asbridge for MO 25th District," has 47 members.
Karen Smith, who donated to the Asbridge campaign in July, knows Asbridge through the public schools. Her children knew Asbridge while he taught at Mill Creek Elementary School, and he coached an opposing junior high basketball team.
"I did not know he was gone," Smith said. "I still like him. He's got a good head on his shoulders. In fact, it gives me more reason to vote for him."
As for the campaign, Cover said everyone regrets that Asbridge can’t be in Columbia to meet with constituents and hear their concerns. "He can't do that," Cover said, "and no one can do that for him."
For now, all they can do is spread news of Asbridge's campaign and emphasize the traits that make him a good candidate for the district.
"He would be an excellent voice for the 25th," Moum said. "Even though this area leans Democratic, and this is a traditionally Democratic district, Ryan is a person that Democrats can feel comfortable voting for. He is willing to work across party lines to get things done."
In the July interview, Asbridge made the same case.
“I had someone tell me, ‘Ryan, if you get elected, you’re going to be the most liberal Republican in the House of Representatives,’” Asbridge said. “That thought had never even crossed my mind. If that’s the case, then so be it. I might also say I’m a reflection of the community I live in.
“I think Columbia is an independent-thinking community, and I think I fit that pretty well,” he said.
RESIDENCE: 24 Broadway Village, Apt. H.
PERSONAL: Age 31. Unmarried.
PARTY AFFILIATION: Republican
CAMPAIGN WEB SITE: www.ryanasbridge.com
OCCUPATION: U.S. Navy Intelligence Reservist, part-time basketball coach.
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in educational studies from MU, 1999; master’s degree
in education from MU, 2002; juris doctorate, MU School of Law, 2008.
BACKGROUND: Asbridge has worked as a reading specialist, substitute teacher, administrative intern and playground supervisor in Columbia Public Schools. He taught fourth- and fifth-grade at Mill Creek Elementary School. He is the All-Star coordinator and a board member for the Daniel Boone Little League, a member of Calvary Episcopal Church and a member of the Farm Bureau, the Navy Reserve Association and Ducks Unlimited. He is studying for the bar exam and plans to take it in February.
WHAT’S THE JOB
There are 163 members of the Missouri House of Representatives, which works in conjunction with the Missouri Senate to pass legislation and craft annual state budgets, subject to the approval of the governor. The General Assembly convenes in early January and continues its session through May. It occasionally reconvenes in September to reconsider either vetoed bills or bills strongly advocated by the governor but not passed in regular session. Representatives earn $31,351 per year and receive daily expense allowances and reimbursements for mileage to and from the Capitol.
MORE ON THE WEB
The Missourian was unable to get audio and video of Republican Ryan Asbridge, who has been deployed overseas by the Navy. To hear an audio Q&A and to view video of Democratic candidate Mary Still, go to ColumbiaMissourian.com. You can also find additional election content at smartdecision08.com.