- Associated Press - Monday, June 1, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Facing a potentially crowded GOP primary in 2016, Missouri gubernatorial hopeful Catherine Hanaway now has backing from South Carolina’s Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.

Haley is scheduled as the keynote speaker during a fundraiser for Hanaway set for June 18 at Hunter Farms in St. Louis, the estate of former U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Stephen Brauer.

Haley, South Carolina’s first female governor who was re-elected in a landslide victory in November, is the first governor to publicly support Hanaway. If elected, Hanaway would also make history as Missouri’s first female governor.

Missouri’s top political donor Rex Sinquefield so far has been one of Hanaway’s primary supporters, and last year contributed nearly $900,000 to her.

A political consultant for Haley was not immediately available to comment to The Associated Press on Monday.

The fundraiser comes as Hanaway, a former U.S. attorney and Missouri House speaker, is prepping for a showdown with at least two other Republican candidates. Haley’s trip to St. Louis marks the first time a nationally known Republican officeholder is weighing in on the race, which could set apart Hanaway’s campaign from her competitors’.

Republicans former state Rep. Randy Asbury and Sen. Mike Parson also are running for governor, and several others have expressed interest. Eric Greitens, a Navy SEAL and author, and suburban St. Louis businessman John Brunner have launched committees as they explore a potential bid.

The impending GOP primary also could make fundraising difficult for candidates competing for Republican support, a disadvantage compared to Attorney General Chris Koster, the only Democrat running for the office.

For example, former Anheuser-Busch CEO August Busch III, another big donor slated to attend Hanaway’s upcoming fundraiser.

Busch last June gave Hanaway $25,000. He’s since donated $30,000 to Greitens.

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Associated Press writer Seanna Adcox contributed to this report from Columbia, South Carolina. Follow Summer Ballentine at https://twitter.com/esballentine .

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