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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — State Sen. Mike Parson, who had endorsed Tom Schweich for Missouri governor before the auditor's suicide, announced Thursday that he will seek the office himself — creating at least a three-way Republican primary for the state's top job.
Parson, 59, said he had planned to stay on the sidelines and back Schweich's 2016 campaign because he "thought he had paid his dues."
The Republican state auditor fatally shot himself on Feb. 26, moments after telling reporters and advisers that he wanted to go public allegations that a top Republican official had made what he perceived to be anti-Semitic remarks about him. Schweich, who was Christian but had Jewish ancestry, also had been troubled by a negative radio ad that mocked his physical appearance, friends said.
At issue was a "House of Cards"-themed attack ad that ran against Schweich in January, paid for by a political consultant with ties to fellow GOP gubernatorial candidate Catherine Hanaway. She has since denounced the ad and said she was unaware of it before it aired.
Parson went to the Senate floor shortly after Schweich's death and delivered an emotional speech about negative campaigning. Parson said the radio ad is "just one part of it."
"There's no doubt in the state of Missouri, we have pushed the limit way too far," Parson said. "That's not who we are as Missourians. That's not who we are as individuals."
A month after Schweich's death, his former spokesman Spence Jackson also fatally shot himself after leaving a note that he was concerned about becoming unemployed.
Parson joins Hanaway and former state Rep. Randy Asbury, of Higbee, as announced Republican candidates.
More Republicans, including St. Louis businessman John Brunner and former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens of St. Louis, are considering a run and could further split the Republican vote. That could place the GOP at a disadvantage as members gear up to face Attorney General Chris Koster, the only Democrat currently running for governor.
Brunner, who lost a 2012 bid for U.S. Senate, made a similar pledge against negative campaigning when he filed paperwork April 2 to create an exploratory committee while he weighs whether to officially run.
Hanaway's committee in a statement Thursday said Parson is "welcome" in the race. Campaign spokesman Nick Maddux said it "will provide more ideas to the public debate and strengthen the Republican Party's eventual nominee to defeat Chris Koster in 2016."
Parson, who owns and operates a cow-and-calf operation near his home in Bolivar, said he's pushed legislation to help both rural and urban areas as a state senator, but also touted growing up on a small farm and his work as a cattle rancher.
Parson previously served in the Army and later worked for more than a decade as Polk County sheriff. He was elected to the state House in 2004 and the state Senate in 2010.
Parson said he wants to see more funding to advertise Missouri agriculture. Other policy goals of his include encouraging lawmakers to draft a budget biannually. That would entail spending an entire session on the state's $26 billion spending plan and the next year working only on policy legislation.
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