State Auditor Nicole Galloway wasted no time following her expected victory in the Democratic primary for governor before renewing harsh criticism of incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Parson.


In a Columbia news conference, Galloway panned Parson for his handling of the state’s COVID-19 response and questioned provisions of anti-crime legislation pushed by the incumbent. Earlier, she said she is best equipped to lead the state as it implements an expanded Medicaid program mandated by voters.


And supporters of both also quickly launched attacks, with third-party groups cranking out general election ads in the hours after Parson and Galloway clinched their nominations.


In the news conference at the Columbia Activity and Recreation Center, Galloway called Parson’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic an outright failure.


"He failed the test of leadership," Galloway said. "It’s time for a change."


frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen>

Parson has been pushing schools to reopen later this month despite consistently high daily counts of new COVID-19 cases. The state added 1,043 new cases Wednesday, the 14th day of the past 16 where there has been more than 1,000 new infections reported.


Prior to that string, Missouri had not had a single day with 1,000 or more cases.


Better contact tracing and near universal testing are needed, she said.


"Gov. Parson has no plan," she said. "He has no vision. I don’t know that he cares. I do."


Despite a tilt toward Republicans in presidential contests over the past 20 years and large GOP majorities in the Legislature, Missouri is competitive for Democrats running statewide.


Polling by St. Louis University and YouGov in late June and early July showed a tightening race for governor, with Galloway trailing Parson by 2 percentage points, within the poll's 3.95% margin of error.


The new ads launched Wednesday include a decision by the pro-Parson committee Uniting Missouri PAC, which had nearly $4.9 million on hand the week before the Tuesday primary, to spend almost 40% of its money — nearly $2 million — on an ad cheering Parson's recent emphasis on tackling violent crime.


By comparison, Galloway's PAC, Keep Government Accountable, had a little more than $1.7 million on hand in the week before the primary.


The ad's narrator describes Parson as "tough on crime" and "strong on jobs," mentioning his experience as Polk County sheriff and his focus on workforce development efforts since taking office in 2018.


Parson rejected a special session on gun violence last year, but called one focusing on violent crime this year as homicides soared in St. Louis.


Parson steered clear of proposing changes Black legislators sought last year, such as allowing St. Louis to enact its own gun laws.


Instead, he offered a menu of other reforms, such as scrapping the city's residency requirement for cops, allowing judges to determine whether juveniles should be tried as adults for some crimes, and boosting penalties for giving guns to juveniles.


New ads promote Parson as tough on crime, but Galloway at the Columbia news conference said it’s a new interest for him — he’s suddenly interested in an election year.


"Violent crime has been going up in Missouri for years and years ," Galloway said.


She criticized Parson’s proposal to charge children as young as 12 as adults, saying he should instead tackle the root causes of crime, including access to education and health care and access to guns.


Some bipartisan measures during the governor’s special session will be approved, she said.


Groups backing Galloway are also launching new ads.


AB PAC, formerly known as American Bridge 21st Century, a super PAC supporting Democrats, said Wednesday it was launching an internet-only ad using the governor's own words against him.


The one-minute ad quotes Parson, during a recent radio interview, in which he said kids will catch COVID-19 when they return to class, but that they'll "get over it."


The ad, narrated by a child, blasts recent layoffs affecting workers in the state Children's Division, a sharp drop in the number of children enrolled in Medicaid, budget cuts affecting K-12 education, and crime legislation being considered during the special session that could lead to 12-year-olds being sent to adult prisons.


"Mike Parson, bad for kids, bad for Missouri," the child narrator says.


The Democratic Governors Association announced late Tuesday it was launching a digital ad campaign taking aim at Parson's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Galloway made her claims about being better equipped to oversee an expanded Medicaid program during her speech after clinching the nomination.


Parson opposes Medicaid expansion and has warned expanding the program will be too expensive and could mean cuts to other government services.


"We can expand health care without raising taxes or cutting other programs," Galloway said. "As governor, that's exactly what I'll do. Gov. Parson won't, so it matters who is sitting in the governor's office next year when it comes time to implement Medicaid expansion."


Attaching her name to Medicaid expansion could help her gain support from voters who cast ballots in favor of the proposal Tuesday, although the constitutional amendment only narrowly won with 53% of the vote.


Parson in a Wednesday statement said expanding eligibility for the program will have a "significant" impact on next year's budget. Parson has said that despite his opposition, he would still implement an expansion of the program.


"However, Amendment 2 is now a part of Missouri's Constitution, and we will find a way to move forward," Parson said Wednesday.


In her news conference, Galloway said campaigning during a pandemic has challenges, noting that everyone in the room wearing masks.


"To me, campaigning is about meeting people where they are in their lives," Galloway said. For most people, she said that is concern over COVID-19 and how it’s effecting their lives, she said.


Roger McKinney of the Tribune, the Associated Press and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.