Name recognition plays role in low-profile race

Monday, October 25, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:16 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 5, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — For a generally low-profile statewide office, a short list of past Missouri treasurers boasts some prestigious political names.

The office has become something of a political stepping stone; three of the past four treasurers went on to higher political office. Mel Carnahan and Bob Holden became Missouri governors, and Wendell Bailey was elected to the U.S. Congress.

The incumbent treasurer, Nancy Farmer, is on the Nov. 2 ballot challenging Republican incumbent Kit Bond for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

This year’s treasurer race pits Republican state Sen. Sarah Steelman of Rolla against Democrat Mark Powell, mayor of the city of Arnold. Also on the ballot are Libertarian Lisa Emerson and Constitution Party candidate Chris Fluharty.

Steelman and Powell both said the potential for political advancement is not the reason they’re running for treasurer.

“I’m not running to become the next governor of Missouri,” Powell said. “I’m running because I want to be the state treasurer.”

“I’m running for office to be state treasurer because I want to make some changes in that office,” Steelman said.

Steelman said she wants to invest more money in Missouri banks, a move that would require some regulatory changes.

“As my teenage kid would tell me, it’s a no-brainer to me to bring the money home and keep it here,” Steelman said.

Emerson and Fluharty agree, but Powell said legal technicalities make the issue more complicated.

“We just simply cannot overnight take $3 billion, cash in our securities and put it in banks because the banks won’t take it because they don’t have the collateral,” Powell said.

Powell also said Missouri’s current investments in U.S. Treasury and government agency securities are safe and secure investments.

The state treasurer is responsible for managing the state’s $3 billion investment portfolio. Both major-party candidates said past experience in economics qualifies them for the job.

Powell worked as a banker for 24 years and has been running his own investment firm for the past eight years. Steelman earned a master’s degree in economics from MU and worked as an economist for the Missouri Department of Revenue.

Steelman has one advantage that Powell acknowledges he lacks: name recognition.

In the Senate, Steelman sponsored the bill calling for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Voters in August overwhelmingly approved the measure.

Steelman said her experience in the General Assembly will help in the treasurer’s office.

“Since I’ve been there, I know the people and I know what it takes to get a bill passed,” she said.

The Steelman name also carries weight in Missouri Republican politics. Her husband, David, was the GOP leader in the Missouri House before they were married and narrowly lost a 1992 bid for attorney general to Jay Nixon. Her father-in-law, Dorman Steelman, served in the Missouri House.

According to mid-October reports on file with the Missouri Ethics Commission, Steelman also has nearly a seven-fold lead over Powell in fund raising. Steelman reports raising $784,891, compared with Powell’s $120,333.

Powell, however, said he is accustomed to being the underdog. He defeated better-funded opponents in the Democratic primary using a strategy he hopes will carry him to victory in the general election: visiting as many places and shaking as many hands as possible.

Powell and his wife, Pam, have logged more than 42,000 miles on a minivan he bought for the sole purpose of touring the state.

“I feel very comfortable saying I’ve probably shaken 50,000 to 75,000 hands in the last 18 months, easily,” Powell said.

The campaign provides Powell and longtime friend and campaign manager Phil Amato with stories to tell while on the trail.

Amato said Powell will sometimes drive rural roads while crisscrossing the state. If he sees a Claire McCaskill sign or a house in a prominent location, he’ll knock on the door, introduce himself and ask if he can put up a sign of his own.

“I get some of the strangest looks,” Powell said.

Powell also said he is trying to gain name recognition with 12 billboards on major interstates in heavy traffic locations.

Despite different financial situations and campaign strategies, both major-party candidates said they expect a competitive race.

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