Michela Skelton, a Democrat who lost two races for a seat in the Missouri House, announced Thursday that she would seek the 19th District state Senate seat currently held by Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden.

Skelton, who lives in Hartsburg, said Rowden led the Republican-dominated Senate “in a full-out assault on Missouri’s women, working families and small family farmers, from the unconstitutional abortion ban and attacks on workers’ rights to curbing local control and gutting education funding.”

Skelton is an attorney who formerly worked for the Senate Research office.

In the news release announcing her candidacy, Skelton stated that she will focus on health care, workers’ rights, education and rural investment.

On health care, she wrote that she would support abortion rights in the Senate, advocate for more funding for Planned Parenthood’s family planning programs and back expanding Medicaid to the limits allowed by federal law under the Affordable Care Act.

With the announcement, Skelton becomes the first Democrat to enter the race for the four-year Senate seat. Rowden was a state representative in 2016 when he won the seat in a narrow victory over state Rep. Steven Webber, D-Columbia. The race was one of the most expensive ever for a state Senate seat, with Rowden raising $2.4 million for his campaign, Webber raising $1.9 million and outside groups spending almost $600,000 to influence the outcome.

The 19th District covers Boone and Cooper counties. Webber narrowly won Boone County but lost Cooper County, which has about 10 percent of the district’s votes, by a wide margin.

Since that contest, voter-enacted contribution limits have been imposed. Rowden would not have been able to raise a significant majority of the money he received in 2016 if the limits had been in place because fellow Republicans helped him secure several donations in excess of $100,000.

Skelton jumped into the Senate race, she said in an interview, because the 19th District has a more politically diverse constituency than the 50th District, which leans heavily Republican in most races. The close race between Webber and Rowden in 2016 shows that the district, which had not previously sent two Republicans in succession to Jefferson City, is winnable for Democrats, she said.

The GOP-dominated General Assembly, she said, "is not really focused on a healthy economy. We are not going to attract new and innovative businesses with this unconstitutional abortion ban, which is a waste of taxpayer dollars."

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Rowden said the race would be fought over the issues of schools, the economy and public safety.

"I welcome Michela to the conversation and I look forward to engaging in a vibrant debate in the coming year," Rowden said.

Rowden has not lived up to his rhetoric about making communities stronger, Skelton said, pointing to legislation that took away the ability of counties to regulate large animal feeding operations.

"A lot of family farmers would strongly disagree that taking away their local control and giving it to agribusiness giants from China and Brazil is not the way to build up our local economies," she said.

In her release, Skelton accused Republicans of underfunding education by changing the law supporting public schools to cut the state’s obligation by $500 million.

“Caleb Rowden and the Missouri Republican Party’s singular focus on tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Missourians are also forcing cuts to investment in our future by underfunding the University of Missouri and higher education across the state,” Skelton said in the release.

In his most recent campaign filing, Rowden reported raising $7,700 in the second quarter of the year and had $156,185 in the bank. Skelton did not have a campaign committee active during the second quarter of the year.

Filing for state and federal offices on the November 2020 ballot begins Feb. 25 and closes on March 31. So far, the three Republican incumbent House members from Boone County – State Rep. Cheri Reisch of Hallsville, Chuck Basye of Boonville and Sara Walsh of Ashland – have all drawn Democratic opponents.

Jacque Sample is challenging Reisch in the 44th Missouri House District, Adrian Plank is making a second run against Basye in the 47th District and Kari Chesney is challenging Walsh in the 50th District.

The two Democrats in the Boone County delegation — state Reps. Kip Kendrick and Martha Stevens — have no announced opposition.

Skelton narrowly lost to Walsh in a special election in 2017 and was defeated by Walsh in November for a full term in the House. Skelton is currently suing Walsh and the House Republican Campaign Committee over an ad that she claims falsely represented her positions

Skelton, 34, lives in Hartsburg with her husband and two children. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in political administration from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

She is working as a family law attorney with Columbia Family Law Group.