Schweich is not well known outside of St. Louis political circles, but Danforth's strong backing of his former chief of staff is grabbing the attention of GOP leaders, donors and consultants across the state.
"I think it's important we have a viable Republican Party. I think Tom offers an excellent possibility that we can keep the seat. He is a fresh face. He is hard working, tenacious and he knows how to spot the major issues," Danforth said in an interview with The Notebook Monday, in describing why he's backing Schweich.
Danforth, a political moderate who has said evangelical Christians wield too much influence in the modern Republican Party, is once again taking on the establishment of his party with his public backing of Schweich. It's a direct rebuke of Congressman Roy Blunt's candidacy and a clear separation from the current incumbent, Sen. Kit Bond, who just tossed his official blessing to Blunt on Friday.
If there was any doubt that the Missouri Republican Party is deeply conflicted about how to best defeat Robin Carnahan next year, Monday's news should rest the case.
"I think we have a better chance at keeping Senator Bond's seat with Tom Schweich than anyone else I can think of," Danforth said.
Schweich has only said he would run if he can prove to be a unifying force. But Danforth isn't likely to advocate so publicly for a former colleague without a clear sense of his intentions.
In our conversation, Danforth chose his words carefully, always heeding to the 11th commandment created by President Ronald Reagan. "I'm not for speaking ill of any Republicans," Danforth replied, when The Notebook asked him specifically about Blunt and former state treasurer Sarah Steelman.
"I simply present him as an alternative. At this point and time in our history, I believe it would be good to have a fresh face. I believe it would be better to have someone who has not been part of Washington," Danforth said without ever specifically mentioning Blunt.
back in 2001, meant to question Within hours of Schweich's announcement, the opposition research wheels began running. There was word of a $500 dollar campaign contribution from Schweich to Claire McCaskill in 2001, a leak designed to question Schweich's allegiance to the Republican party.
Schweich could prove to be a prolific fundraiser who could position himself as a political outsider with insider credibility. Or he could prove to be a flop. But the impact of Schweich on Blunt, Steelman and even Carnahan's prospects is for another day. (Does Schweich help divide the vote for Steelman in St. Louis? Would he be best against Robin?)
Schweich's mere public interest in the race, and Danforth's enthusiastic blessing of it, is another piece of evidence of the strain in a Republican party currently fighting about whether going through rehab is the best option.
Danforth said he would ultimately support the Republican nominee, whoever it is.
"If he decides to do it, I will be very encouraging. I will be all for him," Danforth said. "If he does not do it, I will support whoever our party chooses."
But with his comments Monday, Danforth becomes an elder Missouri statesman who has ventured back into the arena, deciding that his party sits at too critical a crossroad to remain on the sidelines.
And if Schweich proves to be viable candidate, he likely won't owe many people more than former Senator Danforth.