On Tuesday, all eyes in Missouri — not to mention those of political pundits outside the Show-Me State — will surely be on the Church of St. Michael and St. George in Clayton.
The 87-year-old Episcopal Church just outside St. Louis will be the site of the funeral of State Auditor Tom Schweich, whose suicide Thursday equaled news stories of the death of actor Leonard "Mr. Spock" Nimoy and the gunning down of Putin foe Boris Nemtsov in Moscow on the same day.
Schweich, 54, had been locked in a heated contest for the Republican nomination for governor in 2016, when two-term Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon is termed out.
Schweich’s death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound came after a week of bad developments for the candidate, notably a radio spot mocking his appearance that originated with supporters of gubernatorial rival and former U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway.
Under the circumstances, no Republican politician in Missouri would speak to Newsmax of the changed political climate in their state. But one who requested anonymity told us: "Two things you can be sure of. Hanaway will not be the nominee for governor and you will be reading all week about the sermon 'St. Jack' delivers at Schweich’s funeral service."
"St. Jack" is how most Missourians refer to John C. Danforth — former three-term U.S. senator, state attorney general, and U.N. ambassador (in which capacity Schweich was his top aide, as he was to Danforth’s successor, Ambassador John Bolton). Danforth is also an ordained Episcopal priest who officiated at the funerals of Ronald Reagan and Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham.
On Tuesday, he will do the same at the funeral of friend and protégé Schweich. Few doubt his remarks will focus on the cruelty and pettiness of politics — and, the same Missouri GOP source told us, Danforth’s words will make Hanaway and her backers very uncomfortable.
Wednesday, radio spots heard throughout the state blaring that Schweich is "a weak candidate for governor" who "could be easily confused for the deputy sheriff of Mayberry." (A reference to Barney Fife, the hapless lawman played by Don Knotts on the "Andy Griffith Show.")
The voice on the ad goes on to claim "[Missouri’s Democratic] Sen. Claire McCaskill and President Obama enlisted my help to meddle in another Republican primary with Schweich as our pawn. ... Schweich is an obviously weaker opponent against [likely Democratic nominee and State Attorney General] Chris Koster. Once Schweich obtains the Republican nomination, we will quickly squash him like a bug that he is and put our candidate, Chris Koster, in the governor’s mansion."
The spot was the product of an independent committee known as Citizens for Fairness that was registered until recently to Kansas City lawyer James Thomas, who is Hanaway’s campaign treasurer and has close ties to Hanaway campaign quarterback Jeff Roe. Active in Missouri Republican politics for 20 years, Roe is known for his "take-no-prisoners" approach to campaigning.
The same GOP politicians who spoke to us under anonymity were sure that Hanaway’s tie to the commercials are certain to generate opposition to her candidacy and that other contenders would join the race.
Already Eric Greitens, a Rhodes scholar and Navy SEAL, has formed an exploratory committee to run for governor. Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who passed on a bid for governor in '12, is again being mentioned for the race.
Although little-heard in the state, the "Mayberry" radio spot hit a day after Schweich aborted a press conference to slam at reports of a "whispering campaign" among Republican donors, claiming he was Jewish. Schweich attends an Episcopal Church, although he has said his grandfather was Jewish and he was "proud" of that.
Schweich recently made a public charge that newly elected State Chairman John Hancock was behind this "whispering campaign."
"It’s plausible I would have told somebody that Tom was Jewish because I thought he was," Hancock told The Associated Press, "but I wouldn’t have said it in a derogatory way or demeaning fashion."
Last Saturday morning, Schweich had taken a blow as Ed Martin relinquished the Republican Party state chairmanship to Hancock. Martin conducted a poll of state committee members on their favorite choices for governor. The winner of the poll among the 68-member committee was Hanaway, who defeated Schweich by a vote of 29-15, with the remainder abstaining or supporting another candidate.
On Thursday morning, still determined to respond to the questions about his religious background, Schweich left messages for The Associated Press and the St. Louis Post Dispatch and invited reporters to his home to answer questions "only on this matter."
The last message — to Post-Dispatch editorial page editor Tony Messenger — was at 9:41 a.m. Seven minutes later, wife Kathy Schweich placed a 911 call from their home after finding her husband wounded from a gunshot. The state auditor was rushed to a St. Louis hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
"Right now, we’re all in shock over Tom’s death and no one really knows what will happen next," a prominent GOP politician told Newsmax. "For now, politics is a tangled web of spaghetti."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
© 2021 Newsmax. All rights reserved.