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Democrats’ spotlight on Holden puts McCaskill in the shadows

Wednesday, June 9, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:17 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

As Missouri Democrats unite behind one candidate for president, they have yet to choose their candidate for governor: State Auditor Claire McCaskill, incumbent Gov. Bob Holden or Jim LePage.

McCaskill, however, said running for the Democratic nomination has been difficult because the Missouri Democratic Party is being used to promote Holden exclusively.

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“Gov. Holden has not been endorsed, but the employees (of the party) are acting as though he has.”

Claire McCaskill

State Auditor

McCaskill said that while Holden has not received the endorsement of the Democratic Party, he is enjoying some of the benefits that typically come with an endorsement.

“Gov. Holden has not been endorsed, but the employees (of the party) are acting as though he has,” McCaskill said. “They continue to operate the party on his behalf only.”

“I’m not angry,” she added. “I don’t want to be divisive and pick a fight.”

Former Gov. Roger Wilson of Columbia has endorsed McCaskill and even delivered a stump speech for her at Boone County Democrat Days in April. He said she was treated in an undignified fashion at the Democratic Days in Hannibal and at the party’s state convention in Columbia.

“I don’t plan on seeing this campaign along without calling them on this,” Wilson said. “There’s a responsibility to treat each other with respect and dignity, even if they’re opponents. That doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with Bob and Claire. If the climate were this way under anyone’s administration, I would object.”

That said, Wilson acknowledged that he is upset the state party seems focused on one goal this election season: winning Holden another term. He, however, said McCaskill is the better candidate, adding she is an independent thinker who makes timely decisions and has very good communication skills.

“It’s intangible, but I think you will be able to sense as a viewer or listener that the person that you voted for is actually the person making decisions,” Wilson said. “I think Claire will speak for herself when situations get tight or contentious.”

“You’re not going to have to listen to a spokesperson and wonder if that is the message. She’ll look you right in the eye and tell you what she’s thinking.”

Jim Gardner, press representative for the Missouri Democratic Party, said the organization has not endorsed Holden because it doesn’t want to interfere in a contested primary.

“In contested primaries where you have viable candidates, the state committee as a whole will not do an endorsement,” he said. He added later, however, that “certainly, Gov. Holden has been the most resonant voice for Missouri Democrats for the past four years, and Auditor McCaskill has proven her abilities as a capable state auditor. We’re certainly appreciative of the services of both.”

Citizens for McCaskill, a group not affiliated with the Claire McCaskill for Governor campaign, also alleges unfair behavior by the party. Founder Steve Reed in November filed a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission, asking it to investigate whether Missouri Democratic Party funds were being used inappropriately to support Holden and the now-defunct presidential campaign of Richard Gephardt.

“It is clear that the Bob Holden and Richard Gephardt people want all contributions to flow to their campaigns and that is why they have tried to squash any primary in Missouri. ... The Missouri Ethics Commission should start an immediate audit to reveal that funds are being stiffened (sic) off to pay for campaign efforts including e-mails asking people to travel to Iowa to campaign for Richard Gephardt.”

“It’s a way of saying one thing and doing something else,” Reed said in an interview with the Columbia Missourian. “I would not send money to the Democratic Party until this issue is cleared up.”

“Citizens are sending money in good faith, and it’s going somewhere else,” Reed added.

Reed’s complaint said it isn’t fair that the Democratic Party pay the staff and directors of the State Democrat Web site, www.missouridems.org, because it features pictures of Holden and President Harry Truman but makes no mention of McCaskill’s decision to run for governor.

The ethics commission dismissed the complaint in January. “The Missouri Democratic Party filed all appropriate campaign disclosure reports,” it wrote in a letter to the party.

Reed isn’t satisfied and said the party’s misuse of funds is a form of fraud. He alleged the ethics commission looked the other way during the investigation to avoid attracting attention.

“There’s some dirty deeds being done out there,” Reed said. “We know the Missouri Ethics Commission wants to turn their head.”

Both Reed and McCaskill also complained that the second issue of The Show-Me Dispatch, a magazine produced and paid for by the state Democratic Party, ignores McCaskill while featuring Holden on the cover and throughout its pages. The same magazine includes an article about the record number of women filing for political office in Missouri but, again, makes no mention of McCaskill’s bid for governor.

About 28,000 copies of the magazine were distributed at various Democratic gatherings throughout the state, including Truman Days in Independence, Jackson Days in Springfield, Jefferson Days in St. Louis and Democrat Days in Hannibal.

Holden spokesman Caleb Weaver said McCaskill is trying to manufacture controversy.

“I feel like she’s raising these process issues that distract from a conversation about what has been happening in the state, what Bob Holden has been doing for Missouri ... and why she thinks she should replace him,” Weaver said.

Weaver does not think the conflicting views of McCaskill’s treatment will divide the party.

“I think Democrats are more united now than they ever have been, in well over a decade,” he said. “The Democrats are going to rally around John Kerry, their governor and those running for the state legislature.”


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