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Missouri party leader called to resign after candidate's suicide

Lawmakers called for state party chair John Hancock to step down amid claims that he spread rumors that contributed to a gubernatorial candidate's suicide.
Family members of Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich embrace outside The Church of St. Michael and St. George in Clayton, Mo., after his funeral on March 3, 2015. (Photo by Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)
Family members of Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich embrace outside The Church of St. Michael and St. George in Clayton, Mo., after his funeral on March 3, 2015.

Republican lawmakers in Missouri are calling for the resignation of state party chair John Hancock, after allegations surfaced that he spread anti-Semitic rumors that contributed to the suicide of GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Schweich.

Former Missouri House Minority Leader David Steelman and state Rep. Paul Fitzwater both said earlier this week that Hancock should step down. Steelman added that he knew of “several dozen” other lawmakers who agree, according to The Kansas City Star.

In the days before his death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Schweich, 54, had been speaking with a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about rumors that Hancock had told constituents that Schweich was Jewish in order to harm his chances of winning the party’s nomination. While he had a grandfather who was Jewish, the Missouri state auditor was in fact Episcopalian.

Steelman said pressure from U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt could determine whether Hancock resigns.

“Senator Blunt is the most senior Republican in the state of Missouri. If he wants John Hancock to resign, John Hancock will resign,” Steelman said according to the Springfield News-Leader. “If John Hancock doesn’t resign, I will assume that’s because the senator does not want him to.” The paper reported that Blunt declined to weigh in on whether Hancock should resign.

RELATED: Missouri candidate for governor dies of ‘apparent suicide’

Fitzwater also noted that Hancock’s position as party chair was compromised. “It’s so bad that he needs to go. That’s the feeling of the mood I get from everyone here,” Fitzwater told The Kansas City Star.

A request for comment left for Hancock with the Missouri Republican Party was not returned.

The comments came after former Republican Sen. John Danforth excoriated the state’s political climate during a eulogy for Schweich on Tuesday. While he did not name Hancock, Danforth addressed the rumors that anti-Semitism contributed to Schweich’s death.

“Tom called this anti-Semitism, and of course it was. The only reason for going around saying that someone is Jewish is to make political profit from religious bigotry,” said Danforth, who hired Schweich as his chief of staff in 1999 and served as a political mentor to him. “Someone said this was no different than saying a person is a Presbyterian. Here’s how to test the credibility of that remark: When was the last time anyone sidled up to you and whispered into your ear that such and such a person is a Presbyterian?”

Danforth added that Schweich had consulted him about the anti-Semitic rumors, as well as about a radio attack ad that recently aired.

“As for the radio commercial, making fun of someone’s physical appearance, calling him a ‘little bug,’ there is one word to describe it: ‘bullying.’ And there is one word to describe the person behind it: ‘bully,’” Danforth said during the funeral.

Many of the state’s political heavyweights, including Gov. Jay Nixon, Blunt and Sen. Clair McCaskill, were in attendance. Hancock and former state House speaker Catherine Hanaway, who would have been Schweich’s challenger in the gubernatorial race, did not attend the funeral.

After the funeral, Schweich’s spokesperson Spence Jackson was the first to call for Hancock’s resignation.

Schweich was re-elected with more than 70% of the vote to the role of state auditor, an office formerly held by McCaskill. He announced his candidacy for governor in January.