Missouri will have a new secretary of state in January, because incumbent Democrat Jason Kander is running for the U.S. Senate. Barring a third-party upset, his successor will be a Republican with a last name very familiar to Missourians, or a Democrat known mainly to St. Louis-area TV viewers.
GOP nominee Jay Ashcroft has the big edge in name recognition, being the son of John Ashcroft, former Missouri governor, U.S. senator, and U.S. attorney general under President George W. Bush. He admitted during a recent Politically Speaking podcast that it helped him win the Republican primary in August. But he also credits his failed run two years ago for an open state Senate seat.
Before that Senate race, Ashcroft said, "I was really focused on just raising my family, taking care of my wife, and just being involved in my community that way … but once I got involved in that race, other people came to me for this race."
"That race" was the 2014 contest for state Senate District 24, which was won by Democrat Jill Schupp by a relatively close 50 to 47 percent.
Before getting into politics, Ashcroft worked as an engineer for a defense contractor, then got a law degree from Saint Louis University, and now works for his father's law firm.
Still, he's never held public office, which is also true of his Democratic opponent, Robin Smith.
Smith spent four decades as a TV news anchor in St. Louis, the vast bulk of it for CBS affiliate KMOV, from which she retired last year. She's also served as a board member for such groups as the St. Louis chapters of the American Cancer Society, the March of Dimes and the Saint Louis University Board of Trustees.
Smith does come from a political family, with her father, Wayman Smith Jr., and brother Wayman Smith III having been aldermen in St. Louis. She describes herself, though, as a political outsider.
"This is not a monarchy, this is not a dynasty," Smith said. "You can't hand the legacy of being the king from your father to your son … and this is the type of politics we’re seeing in Missouri."
Where they stand on Photo ID
The biggest issue in the race, no surprise, is whether Missourians should be required to show a photo ID to vote. Smith strongly opposes it, saying it would disenfranchise 220,000 Missouri citizens.
"They're the fragile, the elderly, they're veterans, they are college students who are just trying to get an education," she said. "They are minorities, they are those who are disabled and don't own a vehicle and therefore don't have a driver's license."
Smith added, "They are also people who are ecologically friendly who say 'I don't want to pollute the air, I'm not going to drive a vehicle, I'm going to take MetroLink or I'll catch a bus, or I'll ride my bike or I'll ride-share with a friend, and I don't need to have a driver's license.'"
Ashcroft vehemently disagrees.
"It's provable that not a single individual that is legally allowed to vote now would not be allowed to vote after the implementation of that bill, regardless of whether or not they have a government-issued photo ID," he said.
When it comes to ballot initiatives, both Ashcroft and Smith said they should be written clearly, not in ways that would influence how people would vote on them. As for regulating securities, Ashcroft said he won't be overzealous in pursuing criminal charges or lawsuits against finance corporations.
"We've had secretaries of state previously that have said, 'Gee, if I get good headlines, I can move on up to another office,'" he said. "Well if you're looking for headlines, all you do is go after companies; I think we need a secretary of state that says, 'You know what? First and foremost, I should be trying to help companies in the securities industry act in the right way so that they don't get in trouble.'"
Smith said her business education qualifies her to handle the financial aspects of the job, which she recently talked about on St. Louis Public Radio's Politically Speaking podcast.
"I have a graduate degree in business, an executive master's (degree) in international business, which is from Saint Louis University," she said. "I am the best qualified because I have a graduate degree in business that addresses how to run such a large state office."
Libertarian nominee Morrill
Meanwhile, a third-party contender hopes to beat both Smith and Ashcroft.
Libertarian nominee Chris Morrill's top priority is to shift the finance and professional registration duties from the Department of Insurance to the secretary of state's office, which he says would, "save some money."
"Most states have a department of insurance, (but) Missouri has some Frankenstein beast that is weirder than that; we have a Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions, and Professional Registration," Morrill said. "It's actually called the DIFP, which is ungainly, it's hard to say, it's hard to pronounce, because those things don't necessarily belong together."
Such a reorganization would require approval from the legislature and the governor.
On the photo ID issue, Morrill sides with Democratic nominee Smith.
"Libertarians, generally speaking, are in favor of expanding civil rights, voting rights, gun rights, you know, just general individual rights," he said, "so I would be very cautious of adding any new law that would restrict people from voting."
He said that current forms of non-photo identification, such as a utility bill, a bank statement, or a paycheck, are sufficient.
"If anybody shows up at my polling place on election day and says that they're me, and they've got a piece of my mail, it's probably me," he said.
However, Morrill criticized Smith for not stating her position on issues on her campaign website.
"Her website is simply a list of her career and civic accomplishments; she has no ideas on there about what to do with the secretary of state's office," he said. "At least (Ashcroft) does have some issues on his website, (although) I think some of (his positions) are wrong."
Morrill also said he has no higher ambitions, and that if elected, he would only serve one or two terms at most.
"I would bet you a barbecue pork steak and a cold Stag beer that Jay Ashcroft runs for a higher office four years from now if he's elected to this office."
Marshall Griffin is a reporter for St. Louis Public Radio. Follow him on Twitter @MarshallGReport.