Ending an extended search for a candidate to challenge Sen. Kit Bond (R), Missouri Treasurer Nancy Farmer (D) is expected to announce her Senate candidacy Thursday, according to knowledgeable Democratic sources.
Farmer met with Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) over the weekend at the Association of Trial Lawyers of America annual convention in San Francisco to discuss her candidacy; she also commissioned Democratic pollster Bob Meadow to conduct a survey on her behalf.
“We are very pleased and very heartened at the strong possibility that Treasurer Farmer will make the race on our side,” said DSCC spokesman Brad Woodhouse. “She is a rising star in the Democratic Party.”
Woodhouse’s optimism aside, Farmer was the third-choice recruit for Democrats in the Show Me State.
State Auditor Claire McCaskill, always considered a long-shot Senate candidate, spurned the race in favor of a likely primary challenge to Gov. Bob Holden (D); Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell also backed away from a challenge, citing the huge sums that he would have to raise to stay competitive with Bond.
Farmer, who first won a statewide post in 2000, does not enjoy the statewide profile of either McCaskill or Maxwell but will likely present a credible challenge to Bond, several Democratic sources agreed.
“Unlike Maxwell or McCaskill, who would enter this race as credible, known quantities, Nancy has to prove herself,” explained one Democratic consultant, who requested anonymity.
Farmer was first elected to office in 1992 when she won an open state House seat based in St. Louis. She held that office until 1997 when Holden, who was then state treasurer, selected her to serve as his deputy.
In 2000, Holden won the governor’s office and Farmer, despite being outspent by $600,000, beat her Republican opponent by 6 points. She collected about $800,000 for that race.
Farmer cannot run simultaneously for a second term as state Treasurer and for the Senate. One Democrat said the likelihood that she would not face a primary challenge made the Senate race too appealing to pass up.
[IMGCAP(1)] Republicans suggest that Farmer’s candidacy was part of an elaborate ballot switcheroo, which will result in current Public Utilities Commissioner Kelvin Simmons (D) becoming the party’s nominee for the state treasurer position. In the event Farmer fails to defeat Bond, she would be appointed to Simmons’ old position by Holden, according to this scenario — assuming the governor is re-elected next year.
Farmer did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.
Regardless of the reasoning behind her candidacy, Farmer was clearly emboldened by the results of the survey conducted last week by Meadow.
Specifics from the poll were not available, though one Democratic strategist who had seen the survey said it “confirms that Kit Bond has a very troubling percentage of voters that are committed today to re-electing him.”
The strategist said Bond’s re-election number was lower than the 41 percent of voters who said they would bring him back for a fourth term in a March DSCC survey.
Democrats also note that Bond has never won a Senate election with more than 53 percent of the vote, a sign that this race is likely to be close.
Bond won an open Senate seat in 1986 and beat state Attorney General Jay Nixon (D) by 9 points in 1998.
Another potential boost for Farmer’s candidacy could come from the top of the ticket if Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) becomes his party’s presidential nominee.
With Gephardt leading the ticket, down-ballot races could get a major turnout boost, Democratic observers argue.
Republicans dismiss all of these hypothetical conditions, pointing out that the cold, hard facts show Bond is in strong shape for re-election.
The Missouri Senator has shone brightest on the fundraising front.
Between April 1 and June 30 he raised $1.7 million, the fifth-highest total for any of the 32 incumbents expected to seek re-election in 2004. Bond ended the period with $2.8 million on hand.
Both his raised and cash-on-hand total are the highest figures ever at this point in a cycle for a Missouri Senator.
Bond’s fundraising success highlights one of the largest potential hurdles for Farmer, who has never been seen as a strong fundraiser.
She raised only $82,000 for her state treasurer’s re-election race from April 1 to June 30.
If she hopes to remain even remotely financially competitive, Farmer must quickly pick up her fundraising pace and expand her network nationally.
Her trip to San Francisco over the weekend was likely a first step in this effort, as trial lawyers provide the financial backbone of the Democratic party.
Farmer’s need to boost her fundraising outside of her home state is not without peril.
After catching wind of her trip to San Francisco, Republicans quickly went on the attack, arguing that Farmer would find few answers to Missouri’s problems in the Bay area, a renowned liberal Democratic stronghold.
“Many Missouri Democrats — especially in Kansas City — have already found their candidate and he is Kit Bond, which probably explains why Nancy Farmer had to go all the way to San Francisco last weekend to search for support,” said Bond campaign treasurer Garrett Lott.