Jay Ashcroft isn't exactly a stranger to the political process. After all, his father ran for — and, numerous times, won — congressional and statewide offices during his lengthy tenure in Missouri politics.
But the son of former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft admitted he was a bit nervous waiting to see if he emerged victorious in a three-way GOP primary for a St. Louis County-based state Senate seat. He said his "stomach was in knots" until he found out he had won.
"It was really humbling," said Ashcroft in a telephone interview.
In November, Ashcroft will get a chance to prove his mettle in a highly competitive race for the state Senate.
The St. Louis County native works at the Ashcroft Group, a legal and consulting company run by his father. And Ashcroft, an attorney with an engineering degree, says he was inspired to run because he saw a general malaise with how politics operates in Missouri's state capitol.
"You should be able to do whatever you want to do as long as you're not hurting someone else," Ashcroft said. "And if you're not hurting someone else, why is government getting involved? And I think that's an idea that will resonate in the district."
While he hasn't run for elected office before, the Ashcroft name isn't exactly an unknown quantity in Missouri. John Ashcroft, of course, is a former Missouri auditor, attorney general, governor and U.S. senator. After losing re-election to the late Mel Carnahan in 2000, Ashcroft became attorney general under President George W. Bush.
Earlier this year, Jay Ashcroft said he wasn't always sure that he wanted to follow his father into the family business. But he said the desire to help his district was great.
"It's going to be a tough race," Ashcroft said. "But it's a wonderful district. It has great opportunity, great potential for the people of the district. And I'm really excited to continue doing what I did in the primary — going out and letting people know what I think the role of government is and how I would act as their state senator and how I think that can increase their ability to live their lives the way they want to."
Indeed, Ashcroft's state Senate bid won't be easy. He's running in a district that tilts toward the Democrats.
His general election opponent, state Rep. Jill Schupp, is considered a solid fundraiser and campaigner. And it's likely Missouri Democrats will invest heavily to elect Schupp, since the seat offers one of the few chances for Democrats to win a seat currently held by a Republican. (The incumbent is not running for re-election.)
In fact, some of the state's biggest Democratic political players — including U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and Attorney General Chris Koster — have offered Schupp major financial and organizational assistance. And Schupp said she has been barnstorming the district while Ashcroft fought to win the primary.
"I know that the district is leaning Democratic," said Schupp, who had no Democratic opposition on Tuesday. "But I also believe, and I think that you'll find, that I have crossover appeal. I'm very proud of that and I think it's because people know that I've represented this district well."
Unlike Schupp, Ashcroft has never run for public office before and therefore has no voting record. Having a voting record can be a liability for members of the Missouri House who seek higher office because they can be attacked on it. But Schupp said Ashcroft's lack of elected experience could help her effort to win. She added, "Jay has done nothing to tell us in any way he's different from his father."
"If he came into this race with his credentials without his father's name, people would kind of laugh and say, 'Who is this guy? He hasn't done anything through his years here in support of this district,' " Schupp said. "He's really running on his father's coattails and I just think that the residents of the 24th are way too politically savvy to say we're going to fall for this kind of person with no record once again — especially when he's tied to his father."
Ashcroft scoffed at Schupp's contention. He noted that his father worked closely with a Democratic legislature during his two terms as governor.
"There's this thought that he's some, I don't know, conservative, right-wing boogeyman — put in whatever pejorative term you want," he said. "But if people look at his record, they'll see that's not who he was."
He also stressed that he is running for office — not his dad.
"Don't get me wrong. I love my father. I call him just about every night there's a Cardinal game, if nothing else just to make sure he's watching the game and see whether Matt Adams is going to put another one over the wall or something," Ashcroft said. "I'm sure that she'll try to distract the voters. My intention is to do the same thing I've done in the primary — just talk about my vision for the role of government and the opportunity I think the correct role of government provides [for people] to live their lives the way they want to."