JEFFERSON CITY — A group of 18 Republican donors, businessmen and politicians is publicly encouraging State Auditor Tom Schweich to jump into Missouri's already crowded Republican primary to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.
The Republicans released an "open letter" to Schweich on Thursday, praising him as the best possible candidate. The move comes just days after supporters created a political committee that will allow money to be raised and spent while Schweich tests the waters for a Senate candidacy.
Schweich has until March 27 — Missouri's candidacy filing deadline — to decide whether to enter the Republican Senate primary in August.
McCaskill already has three prominent Republican challengers — U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, St. Louis businessman John Brunner and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman. But the group trying to build support for a Schweich candidacy contends that none of them could match up against McCaskill as well as Schweich could in the November general election.
The lead signers on the letter are Republican donor Sam Fox, of St. Louis, and former U.S. Sen. John Danforth. Schweich was Danforth's chief of staff for the 1999 federal investigation into the deadly government siege at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and followed Danforth to the U.N., where he was chief of staff for the U.S. delegation.
Danforth and Fox also encouraged Schweich to run for Senate in 2010 before Schweich ultimately deferred to fellow Republican Roy Blunt and instead declared his candidacy for auditor. While campaigning for auditor, Schweich pledged that he would serve the full four-year term instead of trying to jump to a higher office in the middle of his tenure.
The letter from Republican supporters attempts to give Schweich political cover from that pledge if he decides to run.
"We urge you to reconsider your intention to serve your full term as Missouri State Auditor and run for the United States Senate," the letter states. It adds: "We strongly believe that, during these trying times, serving the national interest trumps anything you have said regarding serving out your term as Auditor."
Schweich has declined to comment about his Senate race considerations.
Other Republicans already in the race reacted Thursday without mentioning Schweich by name.
"As I've said from the beginning, I am the candidate the status quo fears the most, because I do what I say I'm going to do," Steelman said.
Akin spokesman Ryan Hite said he welcomed "a healthy and robust campaign," adding: "We are confident that at the end of the day constituents across Missouri will recognize and support Todd Akin's proven and trusted conservative leadership."
Brunner spokesman Todd Abrajano contended that his campaign message was resonating across the state.
"We see a very clear path to victory in the primary as well as the general election, regardless of who ultimately chooses to enter the race," Abrajano said.