Thursday, November 01, 2007

SWMO Dem County Chairs Like Harris, But Don't Rule Out Koster

Democratic County Chairs in southwest Missouri are most familiar with Jeff Harris, but many are willing to give former Republican Chris Koster a fair chance in the 3-way primary race for Attorney General, according to a recent survey by the KY3 Political Notebook.

Harris, Koster and St. Louis Rep. Margaret Donnelly are vying for Democratic support in the race for Attorney General. Koster, formerly a Republican, switched parties in August.

An informal survey found most chairs initially gravitating to Harris because of their familiarity with him as Minority Leader in the State House.

Barry County Vice Chair Barbara McNeil said she wasn't sure who she'd back yet, but said, "it won't be Margaret Donnelly."

McNeil said she just didn't know Donnelly and "hadn't heard a thing from her." "I do know and like Jeff Harris," she said. She said she had also received a letter from Chris Koster and was very impressed by his knowledge on a variety of issues. "I found him very intelligent," McNeil said.

Dade County Chair Carolyn Head said she's "in favor" of Harris because she "knows him better, and trusts his experience." "He's not too young, yet he's got a lot of good years ahead of him. I also like what he's had to say about needing more teeth in our Sunshine Law," Head said.

Greene County Chair Craig Hosmer is one of the chairs who seems at least open to the idea of Koster. "I don't criticize Chris Koster for changing parties or running as a Democrat. I have heard some talking about Koster not being a real Democrat, but to me, there's no test."

"He's a bright guy, who has good experience. He's certainly someone who is competent," Hosmer said, without committing to any candidate.

Camden County Chair Rick Pope said he wouldn't rule out Koster but that some Democrats definitely will. "Some Democrats don't want you unless you've been a Democrat since you were born," Pope said. "That's how they are."

Webster County Chair Rick Gardner probably had the toughest critique of Koster's candidacy. Gardner said he supports Harris, and questions the timing of Koster's party flip. "I think he's maybe looking at the way the political winds are blowing in 2008, I think maybe he's an opportunist," Gardner said of Koster. "I know Jeff, and really think the world of him."

Pulaski County Chair Clara Ichord also said she's "leaning towards Harris" but could be convinced. Several other chairs said they were undecided, and still waiting to hear more from the candidates and Polk County Chair Lloyd Hensley said he is supporting a candidate but declined to reveal which one.

Overall, Harris seems to begin the campaign with the most solid base in the Ozarks, while Donnelly has work to do on who she is and what she stands for. Koster certainly has room to grow with leaders, but also faces some skepticism from hard core party loyalists.

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