JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri House Speaker Steven Tilley, who amassed more than $1.5 million as the Republican front-runner for lieutenant governor, abruptly dropped out of the race Thursday, while citing a desire to spend more time with his two teenage daughters.
Tilley's exit leaves Republicans scrambling for a replacement candidate a year out from the November 2012 elections. The Republican incumbent, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, already has said he will not seek a third term and is expected to announce later this month that he is challenging Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.
An optimist from the eastern Missouri town of Perryville, Tilley first was elected to the House in 2004 and rose quickly through the ranks to become majority leader before ascending to the top spot of House speaker in January. He converted his campaign committee to focus on the lieutenant governor's race last December and officially announced his candidacy in July. His political heft and sizable campaign account had cleared the field of any other Republican candidates.
But Tilley said Thursday that his political career had taken a toll on his family, his personal life and his career as an eye doctor. He said a campaign for a statewide office would have taken even more time away from his daughters — Kourtney, 17, and Korrin, 15 — which is something he was unwilling to do.
"I've spent seven years on the road for the caucus and party and you know, to be candid, I missed some stuff with my daughters I shouldn't have missed. I probably didn't pay as much attention to my family as I should have," Tilley told The Associated Press. "And I have a choice now: I can either learn from those mistakes and set different priorities, or I can just repeat those mistakes."
Tilley and his wife, Kellie, filed for divorce in September after 18 years of marriage, which Tilley said also played a role in his decision. Tilley said his wife now lives in St. Louis and his daughters are living at his home in Perryville.
In an interview at his Capitol office, Tilley recounted how he still regrets skipping Kourtney's singing of the national anthem before a basketball game several years ago to instead cast a vote in the House on a bill that seemed important at the time but for which he cannot now even recall the topic. He described how he used to go on outings with his father and brother about twice a year — a practice that came to a halt when he got into politics. And he acknowledged that he and his wife grew apart emotionally, partly because of their separate busy schedules.
Had he stayed in the lieutenant governor's race, Tilley said he was confident he could have won. Before Thursday, just two Democrats had said they plan to run for lieutenant governor — state Democratic Party Chairwoman Susan Montee, and state Conservation Commissioner Becky Plattner — but neither had raised much money.
Tilley did not endorse any particular Republican as a replacement candidate for lieutenant governor. But he said he had spoken about the possibility with St. Louis attorney Ed Martin, a former chief of staff to Republican Gov. Matt Blunt and a current candidate for a St. Louis-area congressional seat.
"Ed Martin would be a good option, if he wanted to do it," Tilley said.
He also said freshman state Sen. Mike Kehoe of Jefferson City would be a good candidate for lieutenant governor.
Martin said Thursday that he was not immediately available to talk about his political future.
Kehoe did not immediately return a telephone message.
Another possible Republican lieutenant governor's candidate is state Sen. Ron Richard of Joplin, who preceded Tilley as House speaker. Richard said Thursday that he doesn't know yet if he wants to enter the race.
Tilley said he will remain as House speaker and serve out the rest of his legislative term, which expires in January 2013. He said he likely would give away much of his $1.5 million campaign account to other Republican candidates.
Tilley said he had been struggling internally for several months about whether he really wanted to run for lieutenant governor. He said his candidacy declaration in July came a month later than he originally had planned because of his second-guessing. By August, Tilley said, he was getting worn down by the rigors of the campaign and had decided to cancel some fundraising events. But Tilley said he had continued to campaign until just days before his announcement.
"I was going through the motions," Tilley said. But "I was kind of just half-heartedly doing it."