As a Republican National Committee cochair, Ann Wagner earned a reputation as an indefatigable, well-connected fundraiser, bringing in more than $100,000 for President George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign. So it was hardly surprising that she captured a seat in Missouri’s 2nd District by financially overpowering her opponents, receiving nearly $2 million in donations by mid-August.
Wagner grew up in the St. Louis suburbs, where her father ran a carpet store and her grandfather owned a paint business. At an all-girls Catholic school, she began acting in musicals, playing the female roles at all-boys’ schools. “Of all the things formative in my life,” Wagner said in an interview, “I would go back to the music.” She said she learned confidence, how to connect with others, and conquering vulnerability—all useful political traits.
Her father, who had never attended college himself, wanted to see his daughter get a business degree. She graduated with one from the University of Missouri in 1984 before working at Hallmark Cards and Ralston Purina. Her involvement in politics began in 1989 when her husband, Raymond, went to work for John Ashcroft, then entering his second term as governor of Missouri. She was given the job of overseeing Missouri’s redistricting after the 1990 census, and she went on to run the Missouri campaign for President George H. W. Bush’s failed reelection bid in 1992.
In 1999, Wagner became chairwoman of the Missouri GOP, just as Missouri was evolving from a blue state to a red one. In the 2002 elections, both chambers of the General Assembly went Republican for the first time in 54 years. The state’s newfound Republicanism helped boost her to the RNC in 2001. She says of her success, “I’m blessed with a ton of energy.”
Perhaps Wagner’s biggest leap came in 2005, when then-President Bush offered her the post of U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. For four years, she rotated her family between the U.S. and the tiny European nation.
Wagner often had been questioned about her ambitions for elected office. But it wasn’t until 2012—with two of her children out of the house, the third a high school senior, and a Democratic administration that she charged was “mortgaging” her children’s future—that she decided it was time to try it. After GOP Rep. Todd Akin announced plans to run for the Senate, she jumped into the contest for his seat, quickly raising money, with a substantial number of contributions coming from employees of St. Louis-based Enterprise Rent-A-Car, where her husband is an executive. Some Republicans accused Enterprise of essentially buying her the seat, but her campaign said the donations merely reflected the employees’ trust in her.
Initially it seemed Wagner would have a fight on her hands. But Republican Ed Martin, who had unsuccessfully challenged 3rd District incumbent Democrat Russ Carnahan in 2010, dropped out of the race. And Carnahan, who saw part of his district drawn into the 2nd, also decided to forgo a challenge. That left Democrat Glenn Koenen, a former food pantry executive director, who faced insurmountable odds.
When Akin made his now-infamous comment about “legitimate rape,” some Missouri Republicans speculated publicly about Wagner switching places with Akin and running for the Senate. But after Akin apologized for his remark, she said she remained committed to her own race.
Cory Bennett contributed to this article.