By DAVID A. LIEB
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich has set up a political committee to test the waters for a U.S. Senate campaign, finally publicly confirming his interest in a race he once pledged not to enter.
The IRS has approved the creation of a "Schweich for US Senate" committee, following an application by Schweich's campaign treasurer. The committee allows money to be raised and spent on behalf of Schweich while he considers whether to launch a formal challenge to Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
The Senate race already includes three prominent Republicans - former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman of Rolla, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin of suburban St. Louis, and St. Louis businessman John Brunner. But no one has emerged as a clear front-runner, and some Republicans have expressed interest in drawing an additional candidate into the field.
Schweich has until March 27 - Missouri's candidacy filing deadline - to decide whether to add his name to the list for an August primary election. The auditor's office is not up for election until 2014, meaning Schweich could run for the Senate without giving up his current position.
An attorney and former State Department official under President George W. Bush, Schweich had considered running for an open U.S. Senate seat in 2010 before deferring to fellow Republican Roy Blunt and instead declaring his candidacy for state auditor. He defeated Democratic Auditor Susan Montee. During that campaign, Schweich pledged to serve a full four years as auditor rather than leaving midterm for higher office.
Schweich declined to comment Wednesday about the new political committee.
The committee's paperwork was filed Tuesday by Springfield attorney Joseph Passanise, who is the treasurer for Schweich's auditor campaign. Passanise referred questions Wednesday to Republican political consultant James Harris, who in turn provided a written statement from Neal Ethridge, a Springfield businessman and former chairman of the 7th District Congressional Republican Committee.
"Tom Schweich has been receiving daily phone calls from Republicans around Missouri, as well as being approached by people at Lincoln Day events across our state, asking him to consider entering the U.S. Senate race. They have voiced a variety of concerns regarding the current field of candidates and believe Tom's credentials are what we need," Ethridge said.
"He has made no decision to run at this point and is focused today on serving the people of Missouri as their state auditor," Ethridge added. "However, unlike some candidates, Tom thought it prudent to have the required paperwork filed while he considers a potential candidacy."
That last sentence was a dig at Brunner, against whom Democrats filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging he had taken steps toward a Senate candidacy before officially setting up a campaign committee last fall.