JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill said Monday that she won't run for Missouri governor in 2016, avoiding a potential Democratic primary with Missouri's attorney general in favor of a continued role in Washington.
McCaskill said she considered a gubernatorial bid but ultimately decided she could accomplish more in the Senate, even though Democrats are now in the minority.
"The work is too important, the job is too rewarding and too fulfilling and the trust that Missourians have put in me — giving me this job— I just don't feel I can turn away from it," McCaskill said on KCUR radio in Kansas City.
She said "it's very likely" she will run for a third Senate term in 2018.
McCaskill's decision clears the path for fellow Democrat and Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, who's already running for the state's highest office. Term limits prevent current Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon from seeking re-election.
The only declared Republican candidate is former U.S. Attorney and House Speaker Catherine Hanaway. Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich said Monday that he would announce within the next month whether he'll run. That could mean a potential GOP primary.
McCaskill ran for governor in 2004, defeating incumbent Bob Holden in a Democratic primary. She lost to Republican Matt Blunt in the general election but was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006.
McCaskill won re-election in 2012 over then-U.S. Rep. Todd Akin in a race that drew national attention after the Republican remarked in a TV interview that women's bodies have ways of avoiding pregnancy in what he called "legitimate rape." McCaskill ran TV ads highlighting Akin's remarks and cruised to re-election in what originally was expected to be a close contest.
Speculation grew about a potential McCaskill gubernatorial bid as she became increasingly involved in state-level Missouri politics during the past year. McCaskill's campaign committee contributed $860,000 to the Missouri Democratic Party in 2014, when Republicans ultimately gained seats and now hold commanding veto-proof majorities in both chambers.
McCaskill said she does plan to push a proposed 2016 Missouri ballot initiative that would limit campaign contributions and lobbyist gifts to Missouri legislators and executive officials. Missouri currently is the only state with the trio of unlimited campaign contributions, limitless lobbyist gifts and no restrictions against state lawmakers immediately becoming lobbyists after leaving office.
"I'm going to spend a lot of time and energy on cleaning up the embarrassment that we have when it comes to ethics," McCaskill said.
McCaskill, 61, served in the Missouri House from 1983 to 1989, and then served in the Jackson County legislature and as the Jackson county prosecutor. She won election as Missouri auditor in 1998 and served in that role until going to the U.S. Senate.
Political science professor Ken Warren, of Saint Louis University, said a McCaskill gubernatorial run could have divided Democrats and diminished their chances of retaining the office. And if she had won, it could have increased the odds of Republicans capturing her Senate seat in 2018, he said.
Koster, who had $2.6 million in his campaign account as of Sept. 30, also can now hold on to the considerable cash he likely would have had to spend in a primary against McCaskill.
Koster issued a written statement Monday describing McCaskill as "a friend and advisor" and "the heart and soul of the Democratic Party in Missouri."
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