ST. LOUIS • Tom Schweich, Missouri's Republican state auditor and a leading contender for the governor's office in next year's election, has died, according to his office.

Earlier in the day, a police source said Schweich had sustained a self-inflicted gunshot wound. 

The police source said Schweich's wife was in another room of their house when she heard her husband making phone calls, followed by a single gunshot.

He was 54.

His death was confirmed by his office early Thursday afternoon, just hours after Schweich had requested an interview with reporters for the Post-Dispatch and the Associated Press at his Clayton home later in the day.

Before that interview could take place, Schweich was taken to a St. Louis-area hospital, for what his office initially described only as "a medical situation" that occurred at his home.

"He is receiving treatment at a local hospital," the earlier statement said. "We ask for respect and privacy for him and his family during this time."

Later on Thursday, spokesman Spence Jackson issued a written statement: "It is with great sadness that I confirm the passing of Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich today. Please keep in mind his wife Kathy and two children." The statement didn't specify a cause of death.

Political leaders from both parties immediately began issuing written condolences.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon called him "a brilliant, devoted and accomplished public servant who dedicated his career to making Missouri and the world a better place." Nixon ordered flags at all state facilities lowered to half-staff.

Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster — the likely 2016 Democratic gubernatorial nominee and a key target for Schweich in both his auditing duties and on the campaign trail — lauded him as "a lifelong public servant for our state and country."

Former Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, who was locked with Schweich in a bitter GOP gubernatorial primary fight, called him "an extraordinary man with an extraordinary record of service to our state and nation.

Schweich was re-elected last November to a second term as auditor.

He announced last month that he is seeking the Republican nomination for governor in 2016 — a race that had already fostered unusually bitter in-party conflict despite the primary being more than a year away.

Schweich had positioned himself in the gubernatorial campaign as a tenacious crime-fighting reformer, based on his aggressive audits of public officials throughout Missouri.

Last weekend, at the Missouri GOP's annual “Lincoln Days” convention in Kansas City, he cheerfully joked with reporters as he scooped ice cream for conventioneers. He also gave an impassioned, rousing speech that whipped up the hundreds of attendees and prompted another official on stage to joke that Schweich had had too much coffee.

When Schweich announced his gubernatorial campaign, he promised to attack corruption in the state Capitol. He said his main Republican primary opponent, former Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, was "bought and paid for’’ by megadonor Rex Sinquefield because Hanaway had received about $1 million in political donations from Sinquefield.

Schweich's critics struck back. Last week, a political action committee called Citizens for Fairness in Missouri aired a radio ad saying that Schweich could be "easily confused for the deputy sheriff of Mayberry." The ad, which mimicked the voice of the main character from the dark political drama "House of Cards," called Schweich a weak candidate whom Democrats would "squash like a bug" if he won the GOP nomination.

Schweich graduated from Clayton High School, Yale University and the Harvard University School of Law. He served as an intern for then-U.S. Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., and later joined Danforth at the Bryan Cave law firm downtown, where Schweich became a partner. Schweich long has been close politically to Danforth.

When Danforth led the federal investigation in 1999 into the mass deaths at the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas, he chose Schweich for chief of staff. He also worked with Danforth during the former senator's service in 2004-05 as American ambassador to the United Nations, then with the U.S. State Department as a top official with the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement.

Schweich returned to Clayton and to Bryan Cave in 2008, and was a visiting professor and "ambassador in residence" at Washington University.

In 2010, in his first bid for public office, Schweich unseated incumbent state auditor Susan Montee, a Democrat. He breezed to re-election last November, receiving 73 percent of the vote against two minor-party challengers. The Democrats did not run a candidate against him.

Schweich and his wife, Kathleen, were married shortly after he graduated from law school. They have two children.

In St. Louis, his civic work includes chairing the air-show committees for the VP Fair/Fair St. Louis and the St. Louis County Air Show. He periodically was a guest on KSDK-TV as a commentator on law and finance, and has written books on law, business and personal finance.

TOM SCHWEICH'S BIOGRAPHICAL FACTS

REACTION TO SCHWEICH'S DEATH

 SIGN THOMAS SCHWEICH'S GUEST BOOK

 PHOTOS OF THOMAS SCHWEICH  

Amanda St. Amand • 314-340-8201

@mandystlpd on Twitter

astamand@post-dispatch.com