State rep Sara Walsh, who pushed anti-Planned Parenthood bill, announces run for Congress

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State Rep. Sara Walsh announced Wednesday she is running for Congress, joining a crowded Republican primary to replace the U.S. Congressional seat opened up by Vicky Hartzler’s Senate campaign.

Walsh, 42, of Ashland, is the majority caucus chair in the Missouri House of Representatives. She has ties to Hartzler, having volunteered for the Congresswoman’s first campaign. Walsh is also married to Hartzler’s spokesman. She made her announcement at a gun store in Columbia, about a month after Hartzler entered the Senate race at a gun store in Lee’s Summit.

“Washington needs more people who know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck,” Walsh said to a crowd gathered inside the store. “And while I hope to go to Washington, I will make you this promise: I will never go Washington.”

She touted her working-class background, along with her opposition to abortion and support for lower taxes, gun rights and the police. Before her election to the state House in 2017, she worked as an auditor in the Missouri State Auditor’s office.

The 4th District stretches from the southern edge of Kansas City in Cass County to central Missouri.

Walsh’s announcement was followed up by a hint from Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, a Columbia Republican, that he too will join the race. Rowden, considered a top contender and capable fundraiser in Republican circles, released a statement Wednesday that he will “decide shortly” whether to run.

“I consider Representative Walsh to be a friend and I have thoroughly enjoyed serving with her in the legislature,” he said. “With that said, I am seriously considering a run for Congress in the 4th Congressional District ... It is imperative that we nominate a battle-tested conservative who will ensure this seat stays in Republican hands.”

The primary to replace Hartzler, a staunch social conservative who was the first Republican to win the 4th Congressional District seat since the 1950s, is likely to be a race over hardline conservative bona fides.

After the announcement, Walsh refused to answer when asked by a reporter whether she considered President Joe Biden’s election to be legitimate.

Her announcement came a week after the adjournment of a special session on Medicaid funding, in which she backed a long-shot proposal to cut Planned Parenthood out of the program. It passed the House but died hours later when the Senate adjourned without voting on it.

Rowden worked in the Senate to keep that proposal separate from the Medicaid funding legislation, and said he is working with Parson to “defund” the reproductive health provider other ways.

“The Missouri Senate never ceases to manufacture a fresh new line of excuses at every opportunity,” Walsh wrote on Twitter after the adjournment.

Other candidates so far in the Congressional race include Ed Emery, a former state senator, and Cass County Commissioner Ryan Johnson. Former Boone County clerk Taylor Burks, a Department of Labor and Industrial Relations official in Gov. Mike Parson’s administration, has filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission declaring his intention to run.

State Sen. Rick Brattin, of Harrisonville, also is considering running. Another name circulating among Republicans is Daniel Hartman, Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley’s state director.

Republican strategists have said the race will almost certainly be decided within the GOP primary. National Democrats have indicated they will monitor the race but are are unlikely to steer resources to it.

While the district takes in the liberal-leaning college town of Columbia, it is mostly rural and Republican. There is a substantial military population around Whiteman Air Force Base.

Hartzler ousted 17-term Democratic incumbent Ike Skelton in 2010. The GOP’s hold on the once-Democratic district has grown tighter each election since then and Hartzler won her most recent contest by nearly 40 points.