JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A northwest Missouri senator and St. Louis businessman both jumped into the lieutenant governor's race Monday, moving quickly to take advantage of an opening after the Republican frontrunner abruptly quit the race a few days ago.
State Sen. Brad Lager and businessman Chris McKee both pledged to focus on job creation as they campaign for Missouri's No. 2 executive.
Their candidacy declarations came after Republican House Speaker Steven Tilley, of Perryville -- who had amassed a $1.5 million campaign account -- announced last week that he was dropping out of the lieutenant governor's contest. Tilley, who is going through a divorce, said he wanted to spend more time with his two teenage daughters.
The incumbent, Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, has said he will not seek re-election and is instead expected to soon announce a challenge to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon in the 2012 elections.
Two Democrats already are in the lieutenant governor's race -- state Democratic Party chairwoman and former state Auditor Susan Montee, and state conservation commissioner Becky Plattner, neither of whom has raised much money yet. After Tilley's announcement, Montee said she was working with Democratic Party officials to find a new leader for the party so she could focus more attention on the lieutenant governor's race.
Lager, 36, of Savannah, is in the middle of his second four-year term in the Senate, where he is chairman of Committee for Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment. He previously served four years in the state House, including part of that time as the Budget Committee chairman, and was also on the Maryville City Council. He ran for state treasurer in 2008, losing to Democrat Clint Zweifel in a close contest.
Lager told The Associated Press on Monday that he had previously ruled out a rematch against Zweifel but had been considering running for lieutenant governor even before Tilley got out of the race.
In Missouri, the lieutenant governor not only is next-in-line to succeed the governor but also serves as the presiding officer of the Senate, is a member of state boards that award tax breaks for developments and is the state's official advocate for senior citizens.
Lager said steady funding for government safety net programs for seniors depends on a strong economy that generates state tax revenues. He said his campaign would focus on strengthening Missouri's business climate, re-examining its tax code and opposing excessive government regulations.
"I'm a guy who believes in less government, more freedoms and the innovation that comes out of the private sector, and I'm going to continue to fight for those things as the lieutenant governor," Lager said.
Shortly after Lager declared his candidacy, McKee said he also will be running for lieutenant governor as a Republican.
McKee is the president of the development firm Optimus LLC and is the son of prominent St. Louis-area developer Paul McKee, who has been amassing large swaths of land in economically distressed north St. Louis -- with the aid of state tax credits -- as part of a long-range plan to redevelop the area.
"Missouri needs a pro-jobs administration in Jefferson City. In this economic climate we need officials who understand job creation so we can start to move Missouri forward again, and I am qualified to do that," Chris McKee said in an emailed statement.
As Lager and McKee entered the race, several other Republicans who had considered running opted against it.
State Sen. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said he would instead remain in the Senate and focus on the recovery effort from a deadly May 22 tornado that hit his hometown. Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said he was unlikely to run since Lager was in the race, fearing that he only would split the vote among conservatives.
State Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, and St. Louis attorney Ed Martin -- both of whom Tilley had mentioned as potential replacement candidates -- said they, too, would not run for lieutenant governor. Martin said he intends to remain in the 2nd Congressional District race to succeed U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, who is not seeking re-election because he is running for the Senate.