Voters got a glimpse this week of a possible 2024 showdown between Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe and Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft for the governor’s office, with supporters of both men arguing for their chosen candidate two years before the vote.

Kehoe, 60, declared his intention to run for the GOP nomination for governor last year and officially kicked off his campaign Tuesday in Jefferson City with an event highlighted by an endorsement from the Missouri State Council of Firefighters.

“Our grassroots organization is unmatched in Missouri,” said Demetris Alfred, president of the state firefighters union. “Our work boots are broken in and we’re ready to hit the pavement for Mike Kehoe in our communities.”

It’s the latest in a long string of endorsements Kehoe has racked up in recent months for his gubernatorial bid, from the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police to the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association to the Missouri Soybean Association.

“Our message from someone who has actually run a business and had experience in both urban areas of St. Louis and now in rural areas and our family farm outside of Rolla is a combination that works. for Missouri,” Kehoe said Tuesday.

Ashcroft, 48, said he hasn’t made a decision about whether to run for governor in 2024, though those close to him have said he is seriously considering running in the GOP primary.

The day before Kehoe was endorsed by the Fire Department, a political action committee supporting Ashcroft released a poll showing him beating Kehoe by 35 percentage points in a hypothetical gubernatorial primary.

“As the 2024 Republican gubernatorial primary approaches, Jay Ashcroft is the clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination,” said Patrick Lanne of Public Opinion Strategies, who conducted the poll for the pro-Ashcroft PAC.

In an interview with the Independent, Ashcroft said that because he wasn’t authorized to coordinate with the PAC, he didn’t even see the poll before it was made public. He said he did not expect to be re-elected as Secretary of State in 2024, but had not made a decision on what he would do instead.

“We need to elect a U.S. senator and a few members and women of Congress and a few members of the State House and the Senate this year before we talk about 2024,” Ashcroft said. “It seems arrogant to me to talk about 2024 already.”

Kehoe acknowledges he would start at a disadvantage in a GOP primary against Ashcroft, who is well known throughout Missouri thanks to two successful campaigns for secretary of state and a father who served as attorney general, governor and senator. state American before becoming American. attorney general in 2001.

“I’m the underdog,” Kehoe told the firefighter rally on Tuesday, “and I’m counting on you to help me close this gap.”

After serving two terms as a state senator from Jefferson City, Kehoe was appointed lieutenant governor by Governor Mike Parson in 2018. The position was vacant as Parson took over as governor after the resignation of Eric Greitens.

Kehoe won a full term in 2020.

Born in St. Louis, Kehoe has lived in Mid-Missouri for nearly three decades, becoming well known in the area after buying a Ford dealership in Jefferson City when he was 30.

Ashcroft is a lawyer and an engineer by trade. Although he grew up in a political family, he didn’t throw his hat in the ring until 2014, when he unsuccessfully ran for a state senate seat in St. Louis.

He bounced back two years later, winning a tough primary race and then claiming victory in the fall to become Missouri secretary of state.

Rumors swirled in 2019 that he was considering entering the GOP primary to run against Parson. However, Ashcroft eventually pushed back those rumblings and was easily re-elected as Secretary of State in 2020.

“I go to every county in the state every year, all 114 of them, plus the city of St. Louis,” Ashcroft said, “to make sure people in the state can tell me what what they want to say, and I can listen to them.”

The two men began to step up their fundraising efforts.

According to the latest disclosure report filed by his campaign on Jan. 14, Kehoe has nearly $500,000 in cash. The independent PAC supporting his candidacy, which unlike nominating committees is not governed by contribution limits, declared nearly $900,000 in cash.

Since filing its report, PAC has received an additional $100,000 in major donations. Andy Blunt, a longtime lobbyist from Jefferson City and the son of the top U.S. senator from Missouri, is helping with the fundraiser.

Blunt’s lobbying firm donated $25,000 this year.

Ashcroft brought in around $515,000 in cash in January. The PAC supporting his candidacy had nearly $200,000 in cash.

But in the months that followed, the pro-Ashcroft PAC raised $750,000 in big checks. He is aided in fundraising by lobbyist Steve Tilley, a former lawmaker whose activity over the years has come to the attention of the FBI.

The law firm of Michael Ketchmark, a Leawood, Kansas, personal injury attorney who is close to Tilley, cut a $250,000 check in support of Ashcroft last month.

The Missouri Independent is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering state government and its impact on Missourians.