| Springfield News-Leader
There are more than 600 days between now and the midterm elections, but you wouldn’t have known it sitting in the Oasis Hotel’s convention center Saturday afternoon.
With hundreds of Republican faithful gathered for the Greene County GOP’s Lincoln Day, state officials took turns touting their successes in Jefferson City, decrying Democrats in Washington and reminding supporters to continue their support.
Former governor and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft warmed up the fundraiser with a speech defending Republicans who questioned or objected to the 2020 presidential election results after former President Donald Trump spent months falsely claiming fraud.
“I’m not saying that the election was stolen,” he said. “But my view is that it is wrong for us to be so concerned that we might disrupt someone’s apple cart that we can’t ask the question.”
Then State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick laid out the stakes for 2022.
He noted that U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt’s seat will be on the ballot again and said that with the chamber currently split 50-50, every race will matter.
“We have to make sure that we do everything we can to win that Senate race,” Fitzpatrick said. “There is no path to retaking the Senate majority without holding Roy Blunt’s Senate seat.”
He pointed out that Democratic State Auditor Nicole Galloway will be up for re-election, too.
He then trotted out some attack lines Gov. Mike Parson used in warding off a challenge from Galloway last year, accusing her of using her position to audit and embarrass Republicans.
“We have an auditor who’s really not doing her job, she’s using the office to attack her political opponents, and in 2022, that office is up again, and we have to beat her this time,” he said.
Left unsaid were rumors that Fitzpatrick might run against Galloway himself.
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft spoke next and pivoted to national issues.
He called Democrats’ Equality Act proposal, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, a “direct attack on Judeo-Christian values and the right of people of conscience to worship as they see fit.”
He said Democrats’ plans to overhaul elections and expand mail-in voting to increase participation aren’t much better.
But he also said that if the Republican in the room keep contributing to the cause, he and his colleagues will fight back in court and at the ballot box.
“It is scary what is happening, but Missouri is strong because of what you all did in 2016 and 2020 and it will be stronger if you continue to do that work in 2022 and 2024,” he said. “We can be a light for this country about what it needs to do.”
Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe followed that with praise for Gov. Parson’s “balanced approach” to the pandemic.
That term describes how Parson has declined to mandate business closures himself and instead let each city and county make its own decisions on restrictions.
Kehoe joked that when people told him the state should follow the lead of Texas and Mississippi in dropping a statewide mask mandate, he told them that would be impossible — because Missouri has never had one.
He also boasted that Missouri is currently “the No. 1 state in the continental U.S. for (the lowest number of) COVID positives.”
That ranking appeared to come from the state’s coronavirus data dashboard, which said Saturday that Missouri had the second-lowest rate of new cases per capita for the previous 7 days. (Hawaii, which is not part of the continental U.S., had the lowest rate.)
Kehoe also pointed out that the state has distributed roughly 1.5 million vaccine doses, though he did not say where the state ranked on that subject.
On Saturday evening, data collected by the New York Times showed Missouri ranking 44th for the percentage of its population that had received at least one shot and 19th for the percentage of available doses used.
Parson spoke next and kept with the theme.
He recounted how people urged him to shut down businesses and impose a mask mandate to slow the spread last year and told the audience he felt a lot of pressure.
But he said never wavered from his belief that it wasn’t government’s place to force people to take precautions.
“Even in the middle of a pandemic, freedom still rules, the Constitution still rules,” he said.
He also talked about how the state managed to attract new jobs and business investment last year despite the pandemic and had most schoolchildren back in the classroom in August.
Parson then touched briefly on efforts to reduce abortions and his concerns about bias in news coverage before pivoting back to the elections to come.
Parson said last year that the 2020 race would be his last, but on Saturday he committed to staying involved and asked those gathered to join him.
“I’ll lead this state to make sure we get the right people in the right places to run for office, and I’ll put my neck on the line with you,” he said. “These next two election cycles are the most important ones.”
Parson acknowledged every election seems like the most important one these days, but said that doesn’t make it untrue.
“They want to win Missouri,” he said, referring to Democrats. “If they can ever win Missouri, they’ll turn this whole country, so who you send to Washington, D.C. makes a difference. You gotta have someone who’s got common sense and trusts you to make the right decisions.”
He also offered a prediction for the state auditor race: “If Galloway decides to run again, she’s probably going to end up with the same result she had just a few months ago, with about a 17 point defeat.”
Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader’s politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at [email protected]