KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A trial lawyer who grew up in Lewis County has announced the formation of an exploratory committee in preparation for a possible bid as an independent candidate in November to unseat U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
Craig O'Dear, a partner at Bryan Cave LLP, says he believes the partisan split in Washington, D.C., is in need of centrist solutions. He thinks his experience as a corporate litigator has given him the tools necessary to bridge a two-party split.
"I get hired by big companies to solve their most complex and treacherous problems," O'Dear said. "They want someone who can step in and negotiate complex and emotionally charged situations."
Actually talking with the other side is key, he said.?"The first thing I do when litigating a case is pick up the phone and call the other side and get to know them," O'Dear said
O'Dear has allied himself with the Centrist Project, a national group dedicated to putting independent candidates with a common set of principles on ballots at all levels across the country.
The Centrist Project, soon to be renamed Unite America, is guided by five ideals: putting country above party and public interest ahead of any special interest; finding common sense and common ground solutions; standing for opportunity, equality and stewardship; championing competition, transparency and accountability in politics; and sharing the responsibility of civic engagement.
"Our two-party political system delivers division and gridlock," O'Dear said. "That's not what our government should be about."
O'Dear said he thinks his candidacy will appeal to what he describes as a growing group of voters who find themselves in the political center.
"There's no one there to serve them," O'Dear said.
Addressing economic inequality is at the top of O'Dear's agenda.
"If you go to some of the larger cities and to the coasts, economic opportunities abound in some areas," O'Dear said. "But in many parts of Missouri, that same level of progress has not been reached."
Bringing high-speed broadband internet access to rural areas is an important first step. Without that, he said, "You're not on the grid."
Health care is another priority.
"We spend twice as much per capita as any other country, and our outcomes aren't any better and in some cases are worse," he said. "We've had eight years of noise on health care, and all we really are talking about is insurance. We can do better."
O'Dear believes that making sure Americans have quality health care is an economic development issue.
"Health care security is necessary for entrepreneurship," he said.
Rebuilding infrastructure, expanding international trade and protecting the environment are other key issues for O'Dear.
"There are a lot of issues that are going to require a lot of attention," he said.
O'Dear, 60, grew up on a hog farm south of Lewistown and graduated from Highland High School in 1975. He attended the University of Missouri-Rolla (now Missouri University of Science and Technology) for undergraduate studies and Vanderbilt University for law school, both on scholarship.
He and his wife, Stephanie, are the parents of three children, ages 22, 19 and 16.
McCaskill is seeking re-election to a third term in the Senate. Republican contenders include Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley and businessman and one-time Libertarian presidential candidate Austin Peterson.