Mo. auditor is keynote speaker at Phelps Lincoln Day Celebration

Although he didn’t come right out and say it, Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich’s advice to Republicans for future statewide campaigns could be summed up like this: Do what the Democrats appear to be doing with Chris Koster.

Schweich, keynote speaker for Friday night’s Phelps County Lincoln Day Celebration at Oak Meadow Country Club, urged the GOP to unify rather than fragment into various name-calling sects and to avoid costly primary challenges by getting behind a solid candidate early.

“He’s a state candidate for governor,” Schweich said of Koster, a Republican-turned-Democrat who was re-elected attorney general in 2012.

On Tuesday, Koster was quizzed in a press conference about a possible run for the office in 2016 after Gov. Jay Nixon’s final term ends. His response essentially confirmed his candidacy.

“We are making the necessary preparations and building consensus around the state toward that end,” Koster told The Associated Press in Jefferson City.

Not quite at the same time, but almost, Missouri Treasurer Clint Zweifel announced he would not seek the office of governor.

For the Democrats, Koster’s early announcement (and Zweifel’s acquiescence) makes him the early (and possibly permanent) front-runner with plenty of time for fund-raising. For the Republicans, Koster’s early announcement means plenty of time to shine light on his record.

Schweich powered up the glare of high-beams Friday night.

“His American Revolutionary War hero is Benedict Arnold,” Schweich said, referring to Koster’s 2007 switch from the Republican Party to the Democrats.

Elected to the state Senate in 2004 as a Republican, Koster in 2007 became the first high-profile Republican office-holder to switch parties. The chairman of the Republican Caucus, making him the majority’s fourth highest senator, Koster cited differences with the GOP, which he described as having become too narrowly conservative with no room for moderates.

Just a year and four days later, Koster won his new party’s nomination for attorney general, the office he won in November 2008. He overcame charges of “opportunist,” so with a long period as front-runner, Koster could win as governor.

“We’ve got to prevent that from happening,” Schweich said.

A good way to start the campaign against Koster and other Democrats would be to stop using divisive language, Schweich said.

Words and phrases like “establishment candidate,” “RINO,” “right-wing whacko,” “tea party crazies” and “Ron Paul crazies” should have no place in the Republican conversation, he told the Phelps Countians.

Those names are codewords for business owners, Christian conservatives, moderates and libertarians, all of whom deserve to be heard and are needed in the Republican Party, Schweich said.

“I see them all as facets on the gem that is the Republican Party,” Schweich said in the dining room that included people who would fit all of those various subgroups. “And everybody in this room is better than Obama. Everybody is better than Jay Nixon.”

Schweich also urged an end to costly conflicts in primary elections.

“They take away resources for the general election,” he said.

Schweich experienced a tough primary battle in 2010, despite being supported by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, former Gov. John Ashcroft, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, as well as other government officials.

He won and then defeated incumbent Susan Montee.

Schweich has been mentioned as a possible choice as a Republican candidate for governor in 2016.