Why you should care
Because overlooked Missouri could be the most exciting governor's race this year.
- A 38-year-old state auditor is emerging as a surprise contender to unseat a Republican governor in conservative Missouri.
- Nicole Galloway has focused on corruption and government waste.
Nicole Galloway talks about the political elites, the ones who profit at the expense of Missouri families, as “millions of your taxpayer dollars are given away, wasted or stolen each year.” And despite winning election as state auditor, the 38-year-old depicts herself as an outsider to the crony politicians at the state Capitol while reiterating her working-class roots: daughter to a nurse mother and engineer father, both Republicans.
In short, her pitch is well-tuned to conservative Missouri, decrying government waste and lambasting out-of-touch elites. Only she is a Democrat, and the establishment she’s decrying is the state GOP. And her ability to give Republicans a taste of their own populist medicine could make all the difference as she takes on incumbent Mike Parson in the race to be the Show-Me State’s next governor.
“I have looked under the hood of state government as state auditor, and I’ve seen that it’s not working,” she says. “We have seen for too long the old entrenched system — and Parson is a part of this — where if you are well-connected, you get what you want, but as an everyday Missouri family, you don’t get what you need.”
Folks know that I do have an independent streak, and that I’m willing to stand up to the status quo.
So far, polls show a race that’s nearly tied — and Missouri voters on Tuesday cleared a Medicaid expansion, indicating their support on a key issue. A 2018 Democratic gubernatorial victory in neighboring (and historically redder) Kansas showed a Midwestern path to power for Democrats, who had largely written off the heartland. In a year with few governor’s races, this could be the hottest one on the map.
It marks a rapid rise for Galloway, who gave birth to her first child in 2011, the year she got her first job in politics as treasurer of Boone County, home to the University of Missouri and the city of Columbia. Four years later, Galloway was appointed to be state auditor by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, and she uncovered $350 million in government waste and fraud, which led to 40 criminal charges against both Democrats and Republicans … a fact she often reminds voters of on the campaign trail. “She is incredibly intelligent, a very genuine and real person,” says Nixon, who notes that past auditors went on to reach higher offices, including former senators Kit Bond, John Ashcroft and Claire McCaskill.
The biggest twist was when Galloway won reelection (the first election of her life) by nearly 6 percentage points in 2018 — making her the only Missouri Democrat left in statewide office. “I think it’s because folks know that I do have an independent streak, and that I’m willing to stand up to the status quo,” Galloway says, pointing out that she won more than 100,000 voters who also voted for Republicans, including President Donald Trump and now-Sen. Josh Hawley.
Like Hawley, Galloway is a fresh face in her late 30s, with little political experience and a telegenic family that often turns up on the trail: Hawley with his two young sons, and Galloway with her three elementary-aged boys. “I want Missouri to be the best place in America to raise kids and have a family,” reads the top of the “Issues” page on Galloway’s campaign website. When asked about her hobbies outside of politics, she immediately mentions spending time with her kids, although she laughs uproariously while adding that “it’s sometimes hard to make time, which makes me probably like every other mom ever.”
Even if Galloway does win office, she will be challenged by a Republican-dominated state Capitol. Nixon, who faced a similar situation as governor, says influence in such a spot comes from setting the state’s budget and vetoing bad laws, among other actions. “I always found there was a middle path in the center of things that could let you get things done,” Nixon says.
Despite her unorthodoxy, Galloway’s agenda remains well within the Democratic mainstream: She supports “commonsense gun safety measures,” and allowing local communities to decide for themselves whether to require universal background checks and permits to carry firearms. She welcomes Medicaid expansion, criticizing Gov. Parson for kicking 100,000 children off health insurance while touting the savings it brought the state. (Galloway is not a fan of Medicare for All, though.) She has been endorsed by the pro-abortion rights group Emily’s List, and opposed Missouri’s 2019 heartbeat bill banning abortions after eight weeks, which she said gave “new rights and opportunities to rapists.” And she wants to “get dark money out of politics” — the state is an epicenter of shadowy outside spending — with transparency measures such as “no disappearing message apps” for state businesses.
The latter note is especially interesting. Former Republican Gov. Eric Greitens and his aides used a secret-texting tool, Confide, to hide their communications. In 2018, Greitens resigned in disgrace while facing myriad controversies, leading to Parson’s elevation from lieutenant governor. That same year, Galloway was accused by a conservative nonprofit of letting her own government text messages be deleted (although Hawley, the attorney general at the time, eventually cleared her of any wrongdoing).
Republicans have also accused Galloway of everything from felonies (for releasing transcripts of witness interviews for audits that typically would be confidential) to “partisan manipulation,” as Hawley put it, after she audited him in February for inappropriately mixing campaign activities with state-funded staffers. The editorial board of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wondered if she would police herself as willingly as she did others, writing: “If Galloway wants to continue as the standard bearer for ethics in government, she must be willing to turn the same uncomfortable magnifying glass of scrutiny on herself and her staff.”
Although those criticisms have forced her to play defense, Galloway hardly seems flustered. In fact, it was a role she thrived in while playing soccer at Division II Missouri University of Science & Technology. As sweeper, her role was to “see the entire field, and be the link between the rest of the field and the goalie,” she says. It’s that kind of vision she hopes to bring to the governor’s mansion — if she can fend off Republican attacks first.