Saint Louis, Mo. — In 2016, Missourians will be asked to elect a president, a governor, a senator, an attorney general, and most of the general assembly. Given the stakes and the turnout normally found in a presidential year election, it’s hard to imagine a down-ticket race attracting too much attention.
But as state senator Eric Schmitt, a St. Louis Republican, prepares to face off against Pat Contreras, a Kansas City Democrat and former U.S. Department of State official, Missourians should pay close attention to the down-ticket bout that may be the fight to see.
Schmitt is a slowly emerging name among those plugged in to politics in the state. He made his biggest headlines this past year as he championed the municipal court reform bill embraced by the legislature that many saw as the most direct response to the events of Ferguson of any bill in the state.
In 2014, he made waves when he helped ram a CBD oil bill through the legislature in less than one month.
Contreras is less well known at least in part because he’s spent the last few years everywhere but Missouri.
After finishing his studies at St. Louis University, Contreras returned to Missouri to work at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kanas City where he focused on “community banking strategies.” From there, Contreras went on to Columbia University in New York, where he earned a graduate degree in economics.
Just before the end of the Bush Administration, Contreras took a job with the U.S. Department of State, traveling to foreign countries as a political officer with the U.S. delegation, Contreras’ job was specifically to discuss American business interests abroad, a talking point he’ll likely use liberally on the campaign trail.
But can you blame him? The young Democrat has spent time in Pakistan talking business and was in Mexico for the 2012 presidential election there, where he and his team dealt with the implications of judicial reforms and counter narcotics operations.
“[State treasurer] requires expertise and leadership,” Contreras said. “I studied economics both as an undergrad and in grad school, I cut my teeth at the Federal Reserve Bank working on community banking, so I have the expertise. I led teams at the State Department and I have the leadership skills required to navigate bureaucracies.”
So with a resume good enough to get you in the door, Contreras now faces his biggest challenge: the actual campaign.
After all, he’s not had to run for office before, and Schmitt has. And then, of course, there’s the matter of cash. Schmitt has been in the race for months and has a whopping $1.7 million in a war chest, along with a host of fellow Republican lawmakers loyal enough to stump for Schmitt on the trail.
Contreras leapt into the race just recently and, until quarterly filings in July, one can only speculate about fundraising, although Contreras himself says it’s going well.
Contreras is likely to hammer Schmitt on his support of Right-to-Work or his conservative voting history on guns, abortion, and more. Contreras, the product of a union family — IBEW to be exact — said his own message would be about financial literacy and “stick up for the working families” of the state.
If no other candidates declare their interest soon, Contreras will be the unchallenged candidate for the Democrats, and Schmitt doesn’t appear to have any Republicans itching for their own primary.
Two young candidates with energy, the gift of gab, no primary, and more than a year to campaign might force more than a few Missourians to take notice of the State Treasurer race, for good or ill.