JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — Missouri's crowded Republican primary for governor shrunk by one Saturday, as state Sen. Mike Parson dropped out and announced that he instead will seek the state's No. 2 post of lieutenant governor.
Parson's switch comes just three months after he had declared his candidacy. Since then, several others also had taken steps to join what was shaping up as a seven-way Republican primary for governor.
Parson told The Associated Press that the growing field complicated the race and would have made it difficult to draw attention to his campaign theme against the proliferation of negative tactics and big money in politics.
"I felt like that message would get lost in a governor's race where I feel like with lieutenant governor I can stay on that message and try and improve the political arena," he said.
The only other announced GOP candidate for lieutenant governor next year is Bev Randles, a Kansas City attorney who is a former chairwoman of the conservative political group the Missouri Club for Growth. Randles' campaign has been largely financed by a $1 million contribution from retired investment firm founder Rex Sinquefield, the state's most prolific political donor.
Parson, 59, is a former Polk County sheriff who runs a cattle operation near his home in Bolivar. He first was elected to the state House in 2004 and to the state Senate in 2010.
Parson previously endorsed Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich for governor. But Schweich fatally shot himself Feb. 26 in what police determined was a suicide. Schweich's death came just moments after he told the AP that he wanted to go public with allegations of an anti-Semitic whispering campaign against him by a top Republican official. Schweich, who was Christian but had Jewish ancestry, also had been troubled by a negative radio ad mocking his physical appearance that was financed by a Republican consultant working for a gubernatorial rival.
Disturbed by the circumstances surrounding Schweich's death, Parson became an outspoken critic of mean politics and decided to enter the governor's race himself. While shifting to the lieutenant governor's race, Parson immediately drew a subtle contrast with his new Republican opponent.
"People need to win election on their own merits," he said. "It should not be because you have these separate million-dollar donors."
Randles campaign adviser Todd Abrajano said "new conservative leadership" is needed and Randles' campaign looks forward "to contrasting Bev's successful record of conservative advocacy with Senator Parson's decade-long legislative record in Jefferson City."
Reports filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission show Parson had nearly $727,000 in his campaign account at the start of July. Randles had about $903,000 remaining in her account.
The lieutenant governor's race also includes two Democrats — state Rep. Tommie Pierson of suburban St. Louis and Springfield doctor and attorney Brad Bradshaw. Finance reports show Bradshaw has given $470,000 to his campaign, including $110,000 last week.
The lieutenant governor's office is expected to be open in 2016 because Republican incumbent Peter Kinder has declared his candidacy for governor.
The Republican gubernatorial field also includes Catherine Hanaway, a former U.S. attorney and former Missouri House speaker from suburban St. Louis; state Sen. Bob Dixon of Springfield; and former state Rep. Randy Asbury of Higbee. St. Louis-area businessman John Brunner and former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens of St. Louis also have been making plans to run for governor, though they haven't formally declared their candidacies.
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