(RNS) Questions about Missouri GOP Chairman John Hancock's future have increased, as Republicans cope with the fallout from allegations that the longtime Republican consultant engaged in a "whisper campaign" against Republican state Auditor Tom Schweich, who committed suicide last week.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., tried to steer clear Wednesday (March 4) of the growing controversy and would not say whether Hancock should resign or keep his post as party leader..
"I've been trying to focus on Tom Schweich and his family," Blunt added. "I frankly haven't thought about what should come next."
Schweich, 54, fatally shot himself last Thursday (Feb. 26) at his home in Clayton. He was in a bitter primary fight for the Republican gubernatorial nomination against Catherine Hanaway, a former Missouri House speaker and U.S. attorney.
Right before his death, Schweich called reporters for the Associated Press and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, inviting them to his home for an interview that afternoon and saying he was going to go public with allegations that Hancock had been telling people Schweich was Jewish.
Schweich believed it was part of an anti-Semitic smear campaign against him by Hancock. Schweich was Christian, although he had some Jewish ancestry and had said his grandfather had long encouraged him to stand up to anti-Semitism.
Hancock has denied making anti-Semitic remarks, though he has said he mistakenly believed Schweich was Jewish and may have mentioned that in an offhand way to some people.
On Tuesday, former senator John Danforth, R-Mo., delivered a searing eulogy at Schweich's funeral, excoriating the tone of today's political campaigns and seeming to lash out at Hancock, although not by name.
"Words do hurt. Words can kill," Danforth said. "That has been proven right here in our home state. … The death of Tom Schweich is the natural consequence of what politics has become."
Schweich's former spokesman, Spence Jackson, said after the service that Hancock "should resign immediately" as Republican Party chairman.
At least one other well-known Republican echoed that call. David Steelman, the one-time GOP state House leader, tweeted this message Tuesday (March 3): "Danforth eulogy was beautiful powerful and disturbing. MoGOP needs to find its soul. To do requires new leadership."
In an interview, Steelman said he was deeply disturbed by the tactics and tone of the gubernatorial race.
"The Republican establishment had no room for someone as independent as Tom Schweich," said Steelman, the husband of former GOP State Treasurer Sarah Steelman. "Tom Schweich could not be bought, and the Republican establishment is interested in control."
Steelman also said its "absurd" to believe that Hancock didn't know Schweich was not Jewish. "He's an opposition researcher," Steelman noted of Hancock's work as a GOP consultant.
Hancock did not return a voicemail message on Wednesday.
Many in the GOP will be looking to Blunt, the state's top elected Republican, to be a guiding voice in helping the party move forward after Schweich's death. Steelman said Blunt's influence over Hancock's hold on the party chairmanship is paramount.
"Sen. Blunt is the most senior Republican in the state of Missouri. If he wants John Hancock to resign, John Hancock will resign," he said. "If John Hancock doesn't resign, I will assume that's because the senator does not want him to."
For now, Blunt is not saying one way or the other.
"I think I've answered the question," the senator said Wednesday when pressed on Hancock's tenure.
(Deidre Shesgreen writes for USA Today. Contributing: The Associated Press.)
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