CLAYTON, Mo. (CN) - Missouri's state auditor and gubernatorial candidate Thomas Schweich killed himself Thursday, state officials said. Schweich, 54, a Republican, was considered a frontrunner to replace Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat.
Though the primary is more than a year away, the race has sparked bitter in-party conflict between Schweich and his main Republican opponent, former U.S. Attorney Catherine Hannaway.
Clayton police said Thursday afternoon that its officer responded to a call to Schweich's home at 9:38 a.m. for a call of a gunshot wound, possibly self-inflicted.
Paramedics attended to the victim, identified as Schweich, who was taken to Barnes-Jewish Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Clayton detectives are investigating.
"What we know at this point suggests an apparent suicide," Clayton Police Chief Kevin Murphy told reporters Thursday afternoon.
Murphy said there is "nothing to support anything other than that at this point."
Schweich's apparent suicide came minutes after he requested an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and The Associated Press.
The Post-Dispatch reported that the topic would be Schweich's concern that a top Republican official was spreading false information about him.
According to the Post-Dispatch, that official was John Hancock, the newly elected chairman of the Missouri Republican Party.
Schweich claimed that Hancock, who has consulted for Hannaway, spread false rumors that Schweich was Jewish, to try to hurt his reputation among the Republican Party's large evangelical Christian voting base.
Schweich attended an Episcopal church in Clayton, the seat of St. Louis County.
Hancock told the Post-Dispatch on Thursday that he may have said to someone last year that Schweich was Jewish, "but I certainly would not have said it in a derogatory manner."
"I have been a public figure for nearly 30 years," Hancock said. "No one has ever accused me of bigotry in any shape, manner or form."
A radio ad with personal attacks on Schweich was broadcast last week, paid for by a group called Citizens for Fairness in Missouri.
The ad compared Schweich's appearance to the character Barney Fife in the Andy Griffith Show and said that Schweich would get squashed like a bug by Democrats if he won the Republican nomination for governor.
Sam Fox, a former U.S. Ambassador to Belgium and a wealthy Republican campaign contributor, told the Post-Dispatch that he had scheduled a campaign fund raiser for Schweich and that the money seat was pouring in.
"I was never so surprised in my entire life to find out this happened," Fox told the Post-Dispatch. "This guy was brilliant. This guy was unique. He had so much talent."
Politicians on both sides of the aisle were shocked and saddened.
"Tom Schweich was a lifelong public servant for our state and country," Attorney General Chris Koster said in a statement. "I am deeply saddened by his sudden loss, and extend my heartfelt sympathy to his family. I ask all Missourians to keep his family in their thoughts and prayers during this difficult time."
Koster is considered the frontrunner for Democrats in the next governor's race.
Schweich graduated from Yale in 1982 and from Harvard Law School in 1985. He was formerly an attorney with the prominent law firm Bryan Cave.
From 1999 to 2000, Schweich was chief of staff for the Danforth special counsel investigation of the Branch Davidian massacre at Waco, Texas.
He was chief of staff to U.S. Ambassadors to United Nations from 2004 to 2005, and the U.S. Coordinator for Counternarcotics and Justice Reform in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2008.
Schweich was elected Missouri auditor in 2010, and re-elected in 2014.
Funeral services are pending.
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