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Kinder, others not on the ballot were big winners on Tuesday

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 5, 2010 - Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder was fitting in national TV and newspaper interviews today around his previously scheduled afternoon flight to San Diego to take part in a meeting of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.

For all the flaps over some of his ill-conceived Tweets in recent weeks, it appears that Kinder was arguably the biggest victor in Tuesday's primary -- Republican or Democrat -- who was not on the ballot.

Others not on the ballot also are winning plaudits or respect, notably:

-- State Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield and the driving force behind Proposition C, the ballot measure that seeks to exempt Missouri from federal health-care mandates. She's likely to be a major player in the next legislative session.

-- St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, a Democrat who threw his high-profile support to the six primary contenders for legislative and city contests -- including three who were challenging incumbents. All six of Slay's choices won. Future city candidates may make a point of getting the mayor's blessing.

-- Former U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo., and Clayton manufacturing magnate Sam Fox, a national GOP heavy-hitter, who both used a lot of muscle to help Schweich raise money and win high-level endorsements. Danforth already is getting involved, at least behind the scenes, in other regional contests.

But all the above accomplishments don't match Kinder's statewide record in Tuesday's matchups.

Kinder -- the only Republican holding statewide office in Jefferson City -- was featured all weekend in robo-calls all over Missouri over the weekend in favor of Proposition C and on behalf of Tom Schweich, the St. Louis lawyer seeking the GOP nomination for state auditor.

Schweich and Prop C both won big in Tuesday's primary, bolstering Kinder's profile -- and his possible political options.

Kinder had put a lot of political capital on the line, especially for Schweich. Kinder donated $220,000 of his own campaign money to Schweich's effort, including a last-minute contribution of $120,000 to help fund those final robo-calls and TV ads.

Kinder also has taken a lot of heat for his lawsuit filed against the federal health changes, a legal effort that is separate from the Proposition C campaign but which could end up as part of a parallel legal battle.

On Tuesday, his gambles paid off at the polls.

The day after the voting, the lieutenant governor was snagged for an interview with The Wall Street Journal that an aide says may end up on the national publication's front page. Tonight, Kinder will be featured in two interviews on top Fox cable TV shows, including Greta Van Susteren tonight (9 p.m. Central time).

At 8 p.m., he's supposed to be on Rusty Humphries' nationally syndicated conservative radio show.

Kinder also was busy Tweeting his gratitude toward Missouri voters: -- "I have never been prouder of the people of the great State of Missouri" -- as well as his TV interview schedule and his speculation that Prop C's victory could help his lawsuit's chances.

Tuesday's dual victories could add to the already rampant speculation about Kinder's plans for 2012, when his current term ends.

Many pundits and pols suspect Kinder may opt to challenge Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat on non-existent terms with the state's No. 2 chief executive. The two don't talk, and Kinder is still furious over Nixon's actions that helped kill this fall's Tour of Missouri bicycle race.

Kinder also has built strong ties with area Tea Party activists, drawing a large crowd at a Tea Party rally last spring in Clayton.

But others privately believe that Kinder may have an even loftier target: U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

As evidence, some Republican activists point to Kinder's generous donations to Schweich. The $220,000 given to Schweich will be tough for Kinder to recoup if he runs for governor. But that money could not be used for a U.S. Senate bid anyway, because the federal donation rules are far stricter than those in Missouri.

Danforth, Fox and other members of the behind-the-scenes Schweich team might be eager to help out Kinder in his next election, to pay back his largesse.

If he ran for the Senate, Kinder would be expected to promote the message that he and other Republicans say was sent by Proposition C's passage. McCaskill's staff said in a statement today: " Sen. McCaskill understands the distrust that Missourians have of their government. She is going to keep working to inform Missourians of the benefits of the (federal health care) law, and she will work to make changes if they don’t work.”

Dave Robertson, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said Kinder also may benefit because he was on the same victorious side as Fox, Danforth and other members of the St. Louis area's GOP establishment. Their common success in helping Schweich could translate later to help for Kinder, he added.

Kinder's spokesman demurred when asked about his boss' aspirations. At the moment, Kinder was still flying high -- literally and politically.