Saundra McDowell, the last entrant in the Republican primary for state auditor, was the last one standing Tuesday when it was over, an outcome that several GOP strategists attribute to the fact that she was the only woman in the field facing three men.

McDowell raised less than $20,000, just 2 percent of the money raised by David Wasinger, the attorney and former University of Missouri curator who came in second. She didn’t have enough money to buy radio or television ads prior to the election.

McDowell also defeated state Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, and Ballwin Alderman Kevin Roach. McDowell, who lives in Jefferson City, now faces incumbent State Auditor Nicole Galloway of Columbia, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary.

The outcome is similar to the result in the 1992 Democratic primary for Secretary of State, when Pettis County Clerk Judi Moriarty was nominated over three men, including two who raised far more than she did and another who had been the party nominee in 1988.

The general election will be the first statewide contest since 2006 with two women as nominees of the major parties. That, too, was a race for state auditor and the GOP candidate, Sandra Thomas, won her party’s nomination as the only woman in a field of five. Susan Montee, the Democratic nominee, won the November election.

“There is a benefit, and there has been for decades, of being the only female on a multicandidate ballot,” said Republican political consultant John Hancock, who lost the 1992 general election to Moriarty. “I think it is a striking parallel.”

The GOP primary for auditor was the only statewide contest without an obvious front-runner. The candidates struggled for attention as opponents of right to work flooded the airwaves with ads and media focused on the high-profile U.S. Senate race. Wasinger, who put $500,000 of his own money into the race, didn’t spend enough and he didn’t spend what he had very well, several GOP consultants said.

“Dave Wasinger did not do the needed campaigning as it relates to voter contact,” said James Harris, who advises Gov. Mike Parson. “He spent less than $350,000 to $400,000, and that is not enough money in the state of Missouri to establish a message when you are unknown.”

The 1992 Democratic Secretary of State primary contestants faced the same difficulty as both the Republican and Democratic parties held heated primaries for governor. The only thing that set McDowell apart on Tuesday was her gender and that is probably why she won, said Terry Smith, professor of political science at Columbia College.

“I think it had a significant impact because I am not sure what else explains it,” he said.

McDowell, a native of Oklahoma, is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. She served eight years in the U.S. Air Force, six years on active duty and two years in the reserves. Before entering the auditor’s race, McDowell was director of enforcement in the Securities Division for Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, and prior to that, an assistant attorney general investigating Medicaid fraud.

Galloway is a certified public accountant and a certified fraud investigator. She was appointed Boone County treasurer in 2011 after the death of Jan Fugit and won a full term without opposition in 2012. She was appointed auditor in 2015 following the suicide of Tom Schweich. Her race against McDowell will be the first time Galloway has been opposed in an election.

Galloway’s campaign went on the attack after the primary. In a news release, the campaign alluded to questions of whether McDowell meets the residency requirement for the office and whether she has the ability to manage the office, which watches over state finances.

“A native of Oklahoma, McDowell first arrived in Missouri in mid-2010 and proceeded to amass tens of thousands of dollars in civil judgments and wage garnishments associated with a failed law practice and poor personal financial management,” the release stated. “The largest source of her personal debt is more than $50,000 owed in back-rent and fees associated with a 2014 lease-option-to-purchase a home.”

Under the Missouri Constitution, a state auditor must be eligible to be governor — at least 30 years old, a resident of the state for 10 years at the time of the election and a U.S. citizen for at least 15 years. McDowell registered to vote in Missouri for the first time on Oct. 5, 2010. She moved to the state with her husband, Jonathan McDowell, after graduating from Regent University Law School in Virginia earlier that year.

McDowell could not be reached Thursday. In an interview in February, she defended her residency and said she was working to pay the judgments. McDowell’s wages from the state were garnished beginning in 2016 to satisfy the outstanding judgments.

McDowell said she met her husband, a native of St. Louis, while in law school and decided quickly they would marry and make their home in Missouri after school. That created an intent to be a Missouri resident before Nov. 6, 2008, 10 years before the election for auditor, she said.

“The intent requirement is very important,” McDowell said. “While I was in law school I was in temporary status.”

Galloway enters the fall campaign with more than $1 million on hand and McDowell begins with a debt of $22,529. While that is a big gap, Galloway’s money won’t go very far when she starts purchasing television time. Her campaign manager, Eric Slusher, said Thursday that he was confident about the race.

“We have a lot of accomplishments to talk about and we are going to have the resources to do that,” he said.

In the news release, Galloway’s campaign pointed to the debt amassed by McDowell’s primary campaign as well as the debts being enforced by court order.

“There is in our mind questions about whether our opponent has qualifications to be audit,” he said. “Her personal financial record should raise questions about her ability to lead the state’s financial watchdog agency.”

rkeller@columbiatribune.com

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