Harris undaunted by prospect of unexpected challenger

Tuesday, August 7, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:52 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA - Former Democratic House Minority Leader Jeff Harris, who represents Columbia and is a candidate for Attorney General, is not at all concerned about potential Attorney General candidate Sen. Chris Koster’s switch from the Republican Party to Democratic Party.

“I am the Democrat that will win this race,” Harris said. “We were planning on running against Chris Koster the Republican in the general election, now we’re planning on running against Chris Koster the Republican in the primary.”

Koster said Wednesday at MU that his party switch was largely due to his pro-stem cell research stance which conflicts with a Republican consensus.

As a result, there have been accusations from both sides that Koster’s switch was a calculated move to win the nomination for Attorney General because he saw Harris as a less intimidating opponent than Republican front-runner Catherine Hanaway, U. S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri and first woman Speaker of the Missouri House.

“Simply stated, Chris has done the political calculus and does not believe he can win a Republican primary and does not believe that Jeff Harris is a formidable opponent,” Jared Craighead, executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, said in a statement released on Wednesday. Koster’s spokeswoman Elisabeth Smith said that Koster is focusing on his party switch at the moment. She declined to comment on his potential candidacy.

“As Sen. Koster said last week, he was at a crossroads where he could change his beliefs to fit his party, or change his party to fit his beliefs,” Smith said. “He chose the latter. That is why throughout the next year Sen. Koster will take a leading role in the fight for stem cell research, working families and the protection of an independent judiciary as he’s done for the last three years in the Missouri Senate.”

Koster said he does not intend to run for Senate in 2008. His supporters, Missourians for Koster, have raised $713,262 for his campaign in the 2008 election, according to a quarterly report released in July. Koster has yet to announce any specific bids for statewide office.

Harris says he sees a conflict with Koster’s party switch and his past three years in Jefferson City. Specifically, Koster ending the filibuster on MOHELA and votes for Gov. Blunt’s health care plan, the voter ID bill and sponsoring Senate Bill 364 that would prohibit counties from enacting public health ordinances regulating farming activities. Harris said S.B. 364 would take away control from local communities.

“He and Governor Blunt agree on stem cell research so if supporting stem cell research makes you a Democrat, then Governor Blunt is a Democrat,” Harris said.

Harris says that whether or not Koster is genuine in his party switch, he will have to prove himself as a Democrat to his fellow legislators and to voters.

“This is the Show-Me State and he has an awful lot to show Missouri voters to prove he is a Democrat,” Harris said.

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