By DAVID A. LIEB
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - St. Louis attorney Ed Martin dropped his congressional campaign Thursday and instead declared his candidacy for attorney general, exiting a race with a looming high-money primary to enter one in which Republicans had previously been unable to field a candidate.
Martin announced his challenge to Missouri's Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster by attempting to link him to the policies of President Barack Obama.
It was the same tactic Martin used a year ago, when he announced that he would seek the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill. But Martin dropped out of the Senate race in May to instead run for the newly redrawn 2nd Congressional District when it was apparent that the incumbent, Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, would run for Senate.
Martin was trailing former state Republican Party Chairwoman Ann Wagner in fundraising for the congressional race, and his name had been floated last fall as a potential candidate for governor or lieutenant governor. By moving to the attorney general's race, Martin allows the Republicans to fill a void in their slate of candidates for statewide offices. He also can use the money from his congressional campaign account, which Martin estimated Thursday at $300,000.
Attached to Martin's attorney general declaration was a list of about 50 endorsements, including the chairman and executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, the GOP's incumbent U.S. Senate and House members, St. Louis-area tea party leaders and former Gov. Matt Blunt, for whom Martin served as chief of staff.
Martin, 41, said his switch had less to do with seizing the opportunity of an open Republican primary and more to do with matching his skills as an attorney with the duties of the attorney general's office, as well as his passion to oppose Obama's health care law and other initiatives.
"The biggest problem I see is Obamacare and what it's going to do to our communities," Martin said in a telephone interview. "Chris Koster has not defended us. He's on all sides of the issue."
Koster did not join attorneys general from a couple dozen other states in filing suit against the 2010 federal health care law.
But after months of silence on the issue, Koster did file a document with a federal appeals court last April suggesting that Congress overstepped its constitutional powers in mandating that most Americans have health insurance or pay a penalty beginning in 2014. Koster's court filing suggested the individual insurance mandate could be struck down without invalidating the rest of the law. For example, he said the mandate for certain businesses to provide insurance to their employees could be allowed under the Constitution's power for Congress to regulate commerce.
Martin said Thursday that Koster's court brief on the health care law was "an embarrassment for Missouri" and "a halfhearted attempt to cover his political career."
Koster, 47, is a former prosecutor and state senator who switched from the Republican to Democratic party before his 2008 attorney general's campaign. He issued a written statement Thursday that did not address the federal health care law but welcomed Martin to the race.
"In 2008, Missourians embraced our campaign because they understood the importance of having an attorney general who was a prosecutor, one who has personally stood in the courtroom and convicted many of Missouri's most notorious criminals," Koster said. "In 2012, I'm confident they will do so again."
Martin served as the governor's chief of staff from September 2006 to November 2007. He resigned amid media reports that Martin fired an attorney who claimed the governor's office was not following Missouri's open-records law. That attorney, Scott Eckersley, eventually was paid $500,000 in a state settlement of his wrongful termination and defamation lawsuit in which no parties admitted wrongdoing.
Martin also served on St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners from 2005 to 2006 and previously worked for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis and as an attorney for anti-abortion and school-choice groups.