HANNIBAL, Mo. — State Auditor Nicole Galloway has yet to win her party's nomination for governor, but she made it clear during Friday's virtual town hall with Northeast Missouri Democrats that she is already looking to November's general election where she will likely face Gov. Mike Parson and that the state's response to COVID-19 will be front and center.
"Make no mistake about what is on the ballot this November -- the virus, the response to it, and the recovery from it. It will be the defining issue of our time," said Galloway, a Democrat who said her potential political rival, a Republican, has bumbled the state's response to the virus, which as of Thursday had killed 450 Missourians and sickened 9,489 people in the state. If elected, Galloway would become the state's first female governor.
Parson became governor after the resignation of Eric Greitens. He is running for a second term. Parson previously was lieutenant governor, had been a state representative and state senator, and had been Polk County sheriff.
A spokesperson for the Parson campaign did not respond to The Herald-Whig's request for comment.
Before Parson advances to the general election, he must survive interparty challenges from former State Auditor candidate Saundra McDowell of Springfield, State Rep. James Neely of Cameron and Seneca businessman Raleigh Ritter.
Galloway also must defeat a handful of lesser-known candidates but is largely viewed as the frontrunner.
"No matter who you are or where you are in our state, the impacts of COVID-19 are significant," she said. "I think the last thing on people's minds right now is politics, but I do think people are really thinking about who are in leadership positions, especially governors. If you turn on national news, you see American governors on full display. Never before has it been so clear that decisions our governors make have an impact on a day-to-day lives, especially in times of crisis. You see governors step up to the plate, look the people they represent in the eye and tell them the truth, and make difficult decisions that are necessary to keep people safe. We have seen what leadership looks like, but unfortunately we are not seeing that in our state."
Galloway appeared in the virtual town hall with Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Alissa Cannady, a former Jackson County Prosecutor and member of the Kansas City Council. Both women criticized Parson's response to the virus, including how few Missourians have been tested for the virus and his decision to not partner with fellow Midwestern governors to coordinate a response to the virus.
Parson had previously said the state had the capability to test 50,000 Missourians per week, but less than 1.77% of the state's total population has been tested, according to data from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
"He had an opportunity to be a regional leader, but he didn't," Galloway said.
In addition to discussing the state's response to COVID-19, Galloway fielded questions on a wide array of topics including increasing funding for K-12 public education, renewable energy, expanding Medicaid, preventing right-to-work legislation, and continuing cracking down on puppy mills.
Galloway also discussed the need for bipartisanship in Jefferson City, where if elected governor, she would likely face a ruby red legislature as Republicans have commanding majorities in both chambers.
While polling shows Galloway trailing Parson in a general election match-up, Galloway stressed that she is committed to continuing to campaign, even during a pandemic, across the state, including Northeast Missouri, which has trended toward being a Republican Party stronghold in recent years after historically being dominated by the Democratic Party.
In 2018, Galloway lost every Northeast Missouri county, only garnering 27% to 38% of the vote in the region's nine counties. She managed to hang on to her seat thanks to carrying eight counties elsewhere that U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican, carried.
"We are reaching to voters in a different way. We can't do the meets and greets, the coffees, the in-person town halls. So we are doing everything we can to reach to voters to hear what you care about and to answer your questions," Galloway said.