JEFFERSON CITY - For the top positions in state government, Missouri Republicans find themselves looking to gain back some power as parties start to position themselves for the 2000 election.
As the gubernatorial campaign will likely start taking shape after the November 3 election, Republicans are pointing to two key areas in the upcoming election.
Missouri Republican Party Chairman John Hancock said the governor's race is not on the parties' mind right now. First he said, it is important for the party to take back both houses in the General Assembly.
The other area Hancock pointed to is the state auditor's race, the only position among state elected officials where a Republican still holds office.
"The auditor is the office that holds these people accountable," said Hancock referring to all other offices at the state level. "If it wasn't for a Republican state auditor, people in the state of Missouri would never see their refund checks."
Senate Minority Leader Steve Ehlmann, R-St. Charles, also pointed to the current auditor's race as a key for the 2000 election.
"The only person that we have had at the top has been Margaret Kelly. I guess besides that, it's me," he said. "We have to be out there raising money because we don't have a governor to do it for us."
With Democratic candidate Claire McCaskill outdueling opponent Charles Pierce in contributions, a win would mean six Democrats in the six positions for elected state officials heading toward the 2000 elections. The other five positions are up for election then.
Democrats in the state are not wasting time, making sure they keep their stronghold there. The 1996 election was the first time in state history five incumbents were elected to new terms in the same election. Secretary of State Bekki Cook, Attorney General Jay Nixon, Treasurer Bob Holden, Gov. Mel Carnahan and Lt. Gov. Roger Wilson all returned to their posts for four more years. Party leaders are already starting to make cases to keep the governor's spot in the Democratic party.
With Carnahan on the way out, finishing his second term in office, Holden made his bid for office clear in March when he announced he had already raised $300,000 in contributions. Holden started campaigning for governor shortly after the 1996 governor's election and currently has over $1.1 million in the bank, along with endorsements from Carnahan and U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-St. Louis.
Along with Holden, Wilson announced that he will vie for a third term in 2000. Wilson, who was expected to run for the governor's spot, dropped out of the race earlier this year, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family.
Hancock said he would not speculate on who the Republican candidate for governor will be.
"I think when we are ready, we will unveil our gubernatorial candidate," he said. "I don't think (what the Democrats) are doing makes much of difference. I can say we have zero concern about that."
Ehlmann mentioned U.S. Rep. Jim Talent, R-St. Louis, as a possible candidate for the Republican nomination in 2000. Talent is currently campaigning for another term in office.
"I have been told that he is considering it, and I would encourage him to consider it," Ehlmann said.
Hancock said whoever the Republican candidate is will have all the financial backing they need.