JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson treks to Florida this week for an annual conference with an organization that played a key role in helping elect Eric Greitens in 2016.
Parson, the former lieutenant governor who took over as chief executive in June 2018 after Greitens resigned, is scheduled to join a number of his GOP colleagues at the Republican Governors Association meeting Wednesday and Thursday at the Boca Raton Resort & Club.
The visit comes just two weeks after Republicans suffered a stinging loss in Kentucky, where incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin narrowly lost to Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear in a state that President Donald Trump won by 30 points in 2016. And they suffered another blow Saturday in Louisiana when Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards fended off a challenge from Trump-backed businessman Eddie Rispone.
The Florida visit also takes place against the backdrop of a successful legislative race for Democrats in one suburban St. Louis district, where Democrat Trish Gunby flipped a seat once held by Missouri Republican Party Executive Director Jean Evans.
Democrats framed the victory as a repudiation of the GOP’s policies in Jefferson City, including a strict new abortion law signed by Parson.
Parson, a former state lawmaker, is expected to face Missouri’s Democratic state auditor, Nicole Galloway, in the 2020 general election, four years after Trump won the state by 19 points.
Trump endorsed Parson’s bid for a full term in September, more than a year before voters will head to the polls.
The Democratic equivalent of the RGA is already in Galloway’s corner.
“We think Nicole Galloway is a terrific candidate and someone who is exciting a lot of people,” said Democratic Governors Association spokesman David Turner, who worked for the candidate Greitens beat in 2016, former Attorney General Chris Koster.
Turner said Galloway, a former Boone County official, has shown she will be competitive in a red state.
“Clearly, she was able to outpace Governor Parson in fundraising in the last quarter,” Turner said.
In 2016, the RGA spent an estimated $16 million to help push Greitens, a political newcomer, over the finish line by 6 points over the better-known Koster.
But the RGA also brought Greitens’ campaign finance practices under scrutiny.
Michael Adams, who served as general counsel for the RGA, was the attorney involved in filing an allegedly falsified settlement agreement with the Missouri Ethics Commission in connection with a Greitens fundraising violation.
Adams’ tenure as the organization’s top attorney overlapped with Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff Nick Ayers’ role as executive director of the RGA.
While advising Greitens during his campaign, Ayers discussed soliciting contributions from “restricted donors,” according to a complaint filed earlier with the state’s ethics commission.
Although movement to oust Greitens from office started after news broke that he had had an affair with his hairdresser as he was preparing to run for office in 2015, he hastily departed when a legislative panel subpoenaed campaign finance records.
Missouri ethics laws, however, have changed since Greitens was in office.
Under campaign finance rules approved by voters in 2018, the RGA would be limited to a contribution of $2,500 if it were to contribute directly to Parson.
But the organization could skirt those restrictions by forming its own political action committee dedicated to getting Parson elected. It could raise unlimited amounts to promote the governor as long as it doesn’t coordinate its spending with Parson’s campaign.
In 2018, the RGA raised an estimated $178 million to help keep a majority of Republican governors in the states.
It remains unclear whether Parson will be the beneficiary of RGA money as was Greitens. In announcing its plans for 2020, the organization said its two top targets for pickup are in Montana and North Carolina.
“The time is now to build the foundation, recruit candidates and raise the funds needed to defend our incumbents, win these states and expand our majority,” the organization said.