JEFFERSON CITY - State Auditor Claire McCaskill says she wants to be governor. But for now, she wants to be re-elected.
"I want to work in this job hard until the point in time that it would be appropriate for me to run for governor," McCaskill said.
She said she thinks the 2008 election cycle would be best for her personally and professionally.
There's been speculation that she might challenge Gov. Bob Holden in the 2004 Democratic primary. But McCaskill said she hopes Holden will "continue to do the kind of job that would allow him to get re-elected."
McCaskill, 49, said she has found the auditor's office a great place to learn the ins and outs of state government, and she is straightforward about her political aspirations.
"Somehow in the public sector, if you start in the mailroom and spend your life getting promoted, it's unseemly," she said. "I started in the mailroom, literally, as an intern...in 1974. The legislator I was working for at the time said, 'I want you to get your law degree and come back here and get elected and be the first woman governor.' I kind of took that guy seriously -- I thought that sounded like a pretty good idea."
The daughter of a feed mill worker in Houston, Mo., McCaskill moved to Columbia in fourth grade and stayed through two degrees at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She holds a bachelor's in political science and a law degree from MU.
Following a stint in the Jackson County prosecutor's office, McCaskill was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1982. She was elected Jackson County Prosecutor in 1992 and won another term in that office before her successful run for auditor in 1998.
McCaskill remarried in April, adding her husband's four children to her own three. Hers are 15-year-old Austin, 13-year-old Maddie and 10-year-old Lily. Her husband, Joseph Shepard, is a St. Louis businessman.
McCaskill said her goals have included protecting her staff from political interference and making consumable audits -- reports people can understand.
"I think we've changed - hopefully permanently - the office of state auditor and tried to make it more relevant," McCaskill said. "I'd rather do fewer audits and have our findings implemented. I have no authority to make anybody do anything except shining the bright light of public attention."
McCaskill said she enjoys being an elected auditor, because she feels that gives her "an extra layer of independence." She said she sees the office as responsible to the voters and not as a politicized function.
She maintains that her Republican challenger, Al Hanson, misunderstands the job requirements.
"I don't think he's qualified, regardless of what his background is," McCaskill said. She cites her legislative experience and Budget Committee work as her own qualifications for this office, which commands an annual budget of about $9 million.
McCaskill has raised about $850,000 for this campaign, of which $470,000 is still available. Any funds left over this year could go toward future campaigns for McCaskill.
She said she has her eye on the 2008 election, though "you never know what'll happen in politics."
"If someone had told me 10 years ago I was going to be the state auditor, I would've told them they were crazy.. and here I am, and I love it."