Democratic rivals for Missouri governor see abortion rights as path to victory over GOP

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The primary in August, where Crystal Quade and Mike Hamra will appear on the ballot, will be the first significant Democratic nomination contest for governor since 2004 (photos submitted).When Crystal Quade and Mike Hamra traveled to the Democratic Governors Association Conference in Minneapolis last month, they came with their stump speeches ready. 

Yet before they could push their own platforms as gubernatorial candidates, they had to convince people that a Democrat from Missouri was worth paying attention to. 

“Folks are excited about Missouri being back on the map,” said Quade, a Springfield Democrat and state House minority leader, about the conference attendees. “As we all know, we used to be considered quite a swing state, but in the last couple cycles, Missouri has definitely gone more to the right in the election results.”

Missouri hasn’t elected a Democrat statewide since 2018, and the 2020 race for governor saw Republican Mike Parson cruise to victory by 17 percentage points. 

The game changer this year, both Hamra and Quade agreed, could be a ballot measure to enshrine abortion rights in Missouri’s constitution that will likely come before voters in November. Since June 2022, nearly every abortion has been illegal in the state with the exception of medical emergencies. 

For evidence, Hamra pointed to the bordering deep-red states of Kentucky and Kansas. 

“Both have had challenging races, but they ended up with Democratic governors,” said Hamra, president and CEO of Hamra Enterprises and another Springfield Democrat. “This could be one of the years that we flip the state to blue… and people outside the state also see it.”

The primary in August will be the first significant Democratic nomination contest for governor since 2004, when then-State Auditor Claire McCaskill defeated incumbent Gov. Bob Holden. 

On the Republican side, three candidates are running full-scale campaigns for the GOP nomination – Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and state Sen. Bill Eigel.

Incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Parson is barred from running for another term.

Quade entered the race last July and Hamra followed in October. While not much separates the candidates in terms of where they stand on issues, there’s a glaring difference in their political experience.

Quade has been the House minority leader for the past five years, and she started climbing the political ladder right out of college by working in McCaskill’s office as a legislative aide. With eight years as state representative under her belt, she’s not eligible to run for another term in the House.

Hamra has never held an elected office. He’s worked for his family’s business since 2001, after leaving his law practice, and became president and CEO in 2011. The business that started with a single Wendy’s Hamburgers restaurant in the 1970s now has 200 restaurants – Wendy’s, Panera and Noodles & Company franchises – in five states. 

His family consistently donated to Democratic candidates.

The primary will be Aug. 6. 

Crystal Quade

Crystal Quade, center, talks with voters at an event in Springfield, Missouri on June 30 (photo submitted).

Quade grew up off a gravel road in Fordland, a small town in Southwest Missouri with only a Dollar General and gas station at the time. If her family wanted to go to a grocery store, she said they had to drive an hour west to Springfield. 

“That’s important to this discussion because the way folks grow up and their way of life absolutely influences their political perspectives,” Quade said, the area that leans heavily Republican.

Quade is the only Democrat in her family, she said, where her mother was a waitress and her father worked in a factory. 

“I’m actually the first in my family to graduate high school,” she said. “We didn’t get the paper and talk about politics at all. It wasn’t until I was studying to become a social worker at Missouri State University that I realized how much government impacted the day-to-day lives of people.”

A story she tells often on the campaign trail is going to Jefferson City as a college student for an internship. 

“I was very frustrated with a lack of understanding of what regular working class folks go through,” she said. “It was then that I decided that I wanted to get involved, and I wanted to run for office one day.”

Her upbringing, along with her many years of experience, have allowed her to have conversations in all corners of the state about the impacts of political “extremism” in Missouri. 

For the past two years in the legislature, passing significant legislation has become vastly more difficult, due in large part to Republican factionalism in the state Senate. A filibuster nearly derailed the only must-pass legislation – a state budget.

“When I’m having discussions with people — because of where I’m from and where my family leans politically, it allows me to break through the partisan noise that we often see in the media,” she said. 

Quade touts a “proven track record” as the Democratic leader in the House advocating for issues that matter to Missourians, including raising the minimum wage, expanding accessibility to health care and fighting for abortion rights. 

“I was there when the abortion ban was passed and stood on the House floor and shared my own personal story of abuse,” she said, “and so many stories and other women have shared and how these bills deeply impact our ability to plan our lives.”

Mike Hamra

Mike Hamra, president and CEO of Hamra Enterprises, entered the race for governor in October (photo submitted).

Hamra said he grew up in a family that was deeply engaged in the political system, though not elected leaders themselves.

“It’s always been a priority to understand the value and the importance of the role of government and what our politicians do,” he said. 

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law in 1994, he spent eight years in Washington, D.C., where served as an attorney with the U.S. Commerce Department and Federal Communication Commission.

“Being a public servant has very always been a priority for our family,” he said. “Growing a business is something that we’ve done, but it’s been inside of supporting people and making a difference in people’s lives.”     

Hamra has donated to campaigns for the party’s highest profile races – he gave money to Democratic nominees for governor in 2016 and 2020, and to Trudy Bush Valentine’s campaign for Senate in 2022 – but he has not contributed significantly to down-ballot races. 

In the past 10 years, Hamra donated once to a legislative candidate, giving $1,000 to a Springfield Democrat who lost a House race in 2016.

Hamra’s company employs 7,400 people nationwide, with 2,000 of those living in Missouri. Even before getting into the “political fray,” he said he supported raising the minimum wage because he’s seen how it’s impacted his employees in other states where he does business. 

“The truth of the matter is,” he said, “when our employees are making more money to support themselves, it also helps them support their families.”

As governor, he said he would fight to not only protect access to abortion, but also in vitro fertilization (IVF) and birth control — something his “far-right opponents” are fighting to ban as well. 

“This is personal for me,” he said in a fundraising email. “Thanks to IVF, Eileen and I were blessed to have our fourth child six years ago. Politicians in Jefferson City have no right to dictate how we choose to build our families or the health decisions women make about their own bodies.”

Hamra couldn’t point to a moment or person that pushed him to get into the race – it was just a general frustration with the current leadership, he said.  

“I could not continue to sit and watch the dysfunction that was happening in Jefferson City,” he said. “I couldn’t tolerate it, and I knew that there needed to be… an outsider who’s not part of that system to get in there and start to affect change.”

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Election 2024, Crystal Quade, governor, Mike Hamra, mogov, Trend – Abortion