JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson, on the campaign trail, is contrasting his resume to State Auditor Nicole Galloway’s by pointing out his Democratic challenger attended private schools in the St. Louis suburbs.
“I grew up in a small town,” Parson said Monday during a campaign stop in St. Robert, according to the Pulaski County Daily News. “You started working hard when you’re a kid. Fourteen years old, I had my first job. ... My opponent grew up in St. Louis. I went to a public school system; she went to a private school system.”
Galloway graduated from Ursuline Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school in St. Louis County. Parson, a Republican on the ballot for a four-year term on Nov. 3, repeated similar lines during a speech in Columbia on Tuesday.
It’s unclear how Parson’s effort to contrast his upbringing with Galloway’s will resonate with Missourians. About one-fourth of the state’s registered voters live in St. Louis and St. Louis County, and many of them send or have sent their children to private, parochial schools.
The voters who haven't already cast absentee or mail-in ballots will go to the polls on Tuesday.
“The Governor is so desperate to distract from his failed record that he is now attacking Auditor Galloway for attending Catholic school,” Galloway campaign spokesman Kevin Donohoe said in a statement. “It’s incredibly disrespectful and out-of-bounds to criticize Auditor Galloway for graduating from Ursuline.”
Steele Shippy, campaign manager for Parson, said “that’s not it at all” when asked if Parson was suggesting voters choose him because he was raised in a rural area over Galloway because she was raised in the St. Louis suburbs.
“It’s not an attack,” he said, saying Parson was drawing comparisons between the two candidates. (Shippy said Parson also compared his record in law enforcement to Galloway’s support from candidates who want to cut funding from police departments in order to cover other priorities.)
Shippy said that Parson supports private schools, noting that he appointed Mike Kehoe, a St. Louis native and graduate of Chaminade, to be lieutenant governor. He also appointed Eric Schmitt, a graduate of De Smet Jesuit High School, as attorney general.
Galloway responded to Parson’s statements Wednesday evening on Twitter: “Read between the lines. When @MikeParson criticized my Ursuline education to ‘draw comparisons’ about our qualifications, here’s what he’s saying to women who went to Catholic, all-girl, or religious schools: You’re not qualified to be governor. This is a new low.”
Read between the lines. When @MikeParson criticized my Ursuline education to "draw comparisons" about our qualifications, here's what he's saying to women who went to Catholic, all-girl, or religious schools:— Nicole Galloway (@nicolergalloway) October 29, 2020
You're not qualified to be governor.
This is a new low. pic.twitter.com/eEjXOKOhX1
Galloway, 38, a Democrat, grew up in Fenton, attended St. Paul Catholic School there, and graduated in 2000 from Ursuline, one of 19 Roman Catholic high schools in St. Louis and St. Louis County, according to the St. Louis Archdiocese.
After graduating from private Catholic school, Galloway majored in applied mathematics and economics at the University of Missouri-Rolla, now known as Missouri University of Science and Technology, and earned her master of business administration at the University of Missouri-Columbia — both public schools. Galloway is a certified public accountant.
After high school, Parson, 65, joined the Army and served for six years. At one time, he owned three gas stations around Wheatland, before starting a cattle operation with his wife, Teresa, according to Biz 417, a Springfield business publication that profiled Parson in 2018. He served as Polk County sheriff before being elected to the Missouri House in 2004.
“My opponent has never created a job in her life. She’s never run a business,” Parson said Tuesday in Columbia.
Donohoe said that like Parson, Galloway worked as a teenager, first by babysitting for neighbors in middle school.
He said that in high school, she worked at Kirkwood Material Supply in the summers, and in college, she worked 2 ½ years as a server at Applebee’s. In graduate school, she worked at the Addison’s restaurant in Columbia, Donohoe said.
“It seems to me that Parson is speaking to his rural base with those comparisons,” said Peverill Squire, political science professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. “I am not sure that these comments will help him with suburban women, particularly in the St. Louis area, which is a group Republicans have counted on in recent years.”
Parson said Tuesday in Columbia that “I learned what it was like to work hard on a farm, to be good neighbors, to respect people, what it’s like to sit in a church pew.
“My opponent grew up in St. Louis, went to a private school,” Parson said, without mentioning she attended a private Catholic school.
Squire said, “Touting that you learned to sit in a church pew and then criticizing your opponent for attending a Catholic high school is, to be charitable, inconsistent.”
Parson, starting Saturday, embarked on a 33-stop bus tour, with no stops planned in St. Louis or St. Louis County.
Shippy said last Tuesday when the list of stops was announced that “not all stops are complete,” but by Wednesday the campaign still hadn’t announced any visits to St. Louis or St. Louis County.
The new angle by Parson coincides with a new ad by the Parson-allied Uniting Missouri PAC this week that notes his time in the Army, 22 years in law enforcement and six years in the state Senate.
It says Galloway is unqualified to be governor, mentioning that she worked at “an accounting firm and multiple insurance companies” before flashing to a screen that says “qualifications not found.”
The ad doesn’t mention her two appointments to government roles, both by former Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. He appointed her Boone County treasurer in 2011 and appointed her state auditor in 2015 after the death of Auditor Tom Schweich. Galloway was elected to a four-year term in 2018.
Donohoe said the new tactic by the Parson campaign demonstrates that the two candidates are locked in a tight race, despite surveys showing that Parson has a polling advantage outside the margin of error.
In 2016, during the gubernatorial race between Democrat Chris Koster and Republican Eric Greitens, most polls between August and into late October showed Koster leading, according to a Real Clear Politics analysis. Greitens eventually won the race by almost 6 percentage points.
Kurt Erickson of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.