Mike Kehoe is running hard for Missouri governor while Jay Ashcroft waits in the wings
Two years before votes are cast in a GOP gubernatorial primary, supporters of Kehoe and Ashcroft gear up for a showdown
Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe formally kicks off his 2024 campaign for governor with a rally in Jefferson City on April 5, 2022. He was also endorsed by the Missouri State Council of Firefighters (Jason Hancock/Missouri Independent).
Voters got a preview this week of a possible 2024 showdown between Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe and Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft for the governor’s office, with supporters for both men making the case for their chosen candidate two years before any ballots are cast.
Kehoe, 60, declared his intentions to run for the GOP nomination for governor last year and officially kicked off his campaign in Jefferson City Tuesday with an event highlighted by an endorsement from the Missouri State Council of Firefighters.
“Our grassroots organization is unmatched in Missouri,” said Demetris Alfred, president of the state firefighters union. “Our work boots are broken in and we are ready to hit the pavement for Mike Kehoe in our communities.”
It’s the latest in a long line of endorsements Kehoe has racked up in recent months for his bid for governor, from the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police to the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association to the Missouri Soybean Association.
“Our message of somebody who has actually run a business and had experience in both urban neighborhoods of St. Louis and now the rural areas and our family farm outside of Rolla is a combination that works for Missouri,” Kehoe said Tuesday.
Ashcroft, 48, says he has made no decision on whether he’ll run for governor in 2024, though those close to him say he’s seriously looking at jumping into the GOP primary.
The day before the firefighters endorsement of Kehoe, a political action committee supporting Ashcroft released a poll showing him beating Kehoe by 35 percentage points in a hypothetical gubernatorial primary.
“Heading into the 2024 Republican gubernatorial primary, Jay Ashcroft is the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination,” said Patrick Lanne of Public Opinion Strategies, which conducted the poll for the pro-Ashcroft PAC.
In an interview with The Independent, Ashcroft said because he isn’t allowed to coordinate with the PAC he didn’t even see the poll until after it was made public. He said he doesn’t expect to seek re-election as secretary of state in 2024 but has made no decision about what he will do instead.
“We need to elect a U.S. senator and some congressmen and women and some state House and Senate members this year before we’re talking about 2024,” Ashcroft said. “It seems arrogant for me to be talking about 2024 already.”
Kehoe acknowledges he would start out at a disadvantage running in a GOP primary against Ashcroft, who is well known throughout Missouri thanks to two successful campaigns for secretary of state and a father who served as the state’s attorney general, governor and U.S. Senator before becoming U.S. attorney general in 2001.
“I’m the underdog,” Kehoe told the gathering of firefighters Tuesday, “and I’m counting on you guys to help me make that gap up.”
After serving two terms as a state senator from Jefferson City, Kehoe was appointed lieutenant governor by Gov. Mike Parson in 2018. The office was vacant because Parson took over as governor following Eric Greitens’ resignation.
Kehoe won a full term of his own in 2020.
Born in St. Louis, Kehoe has lived in mid-Missouri for nearly three decades, becoming well known in the area after purchasing a Ford dealership in Jefferson City at the age of 30.
Ashcroft is an attorney and engineer by trade. Though he grew up in a political family, he didn’t throw his hat into the ring until 2014 when he ran unsuccessfully for a state senate seat in St. Louis County.
He bounced back two years later, winning a tough primary race and then cruising to victory in the fall to become Missouri secretary of state.
Rumors circulated in 2019 that he was considering entering the GOP primary to run against Parson. But Ashcroft eventually batted those rumblings down and instead easily won reelection as secretary of state in 2020.
“I get to every county in the state every year, all 114 of them, plus the city of St. Louis,” Ashcroft said, “to make sure that the people of the state can tell me what they want to say, and I can listen to them.”
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Both men have begun ramping up their fundraising efforts.
According to the last disclosure report filed by his campaign on Jan. 14, Kehoe has nearly $500,000 cash on hand. The independent PAC supporting his candidacy, which unlike candidate committees aren’t governed by contribution limits, reported nearly $900,000 cash on hand.
Since filing its report, the PAC has received another $100,000 in large donations. Assisting with fundraising is Andy Blunt, a long time Jefferson City lobbyist and the son of Missouri’s senior U.S. senator.
Blunt’s lobbying firm has donated $25,000 this year.
Ashcroft reported roughly $515,000 cash on hand in January. The PAC supporting his candidacy had nearly $200,000 cash on hand.
But in the intervening months, the pro-Ashcroft PAC has raised $750,000 in large checks. It is being aided in fundraising by lobbyist Steve Tilley, a former lawmaker whose activity over the years has drawn scrutiny from the FBI.
The law firm of Michael Ketchmark, a personal injury attorney from Leawood, Kansas, who is close to Tilley, cut a $250,000 check to support Ashcroft last month.
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