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Kinder and Schoeller squeak by in the statewide contests; Spence, Martin, Montee and Kander roll

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 7, 2012 - After seeing his political fortunes crumble a year ago, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder completed a political comeback with a narrow victory in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor.

Meanwhile, Kirkwood businessman Dave Spence will face Gov. Jay Nixon, St. Louis attorney Ed Martin will go up against Attorney General Chris Koster, and state Rep. Jason Kander, D-Kansas City, could square off against House Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller, R-Willard.

Kinder thwarted state Sen. Brad Lager, a Savannah Republican who used a small circle of donors to outflank Kinder in fundraising. Kinder received roughly 44 percent of the vote, compared to Lager’s 42 percent, Wentzville attorney Mike Carter’s 8 percent and St. Louis resident Charles Kullmann’s 6 percent.

The Associated Press called the race for Kinder with 99 percent of the statewide vote taken in.

Kinder, a Cape Girardeau native, was widely expected to run for governor last year, but that candidacy was bogged down with unflattering articles about his traveling expenses and his acquaintance with a former stripper. He eventually decided to run for a third term, even though Lager refused to stand down.

Lager seemed to complicate Kinder’s re-election bid severely after he started receiving huge donations. Included in the mix were contributors to Kinder’s previous statewide bids, such as TAMKO president David Humphreys and retired financier Rex Sinquefield. He used that money to launch extensive ads attacking Kinder.

But Kinder struck back with a vengeance. He released a slew of ads questioning Lager’s job with Cerner, a North Kansas City health care information company that’s benefited from President Barack Obama’s policies. He argued that Lager’s opposition to the Affordable Health Care Act was insincere due to that link.

Lager ended up racking up larger margins than Kinder in southwest Missouri areas such as Greene and Christian Counties. But Kinder prevailed in the St. Louis area, winning in St. Louis County, St. Charles County and Jefferson County by significant margins. 

"I'm extremely humbled and honored to be your Republican nominee for Lt. Governor of Missouri," Kinder said in a message on his Facebook page. "The support and encouragement throughout this year has been overwhelming. I couldn't have done it without everyone's support and prayers. Looking forward to uniting as a party and to a strong GOP victory in November!"

Lager released a statement close to midnight stating that he fully supported "Peter Kinder in his campaign for another term as lieutenant governor.”

“When you engage in a battle for public policy, you do so to defend your principles and beliefs. I hold those principles and beliefs dearly and that is why I entered this campaign. I am proud to have provided the voters of Missouri with a choice in the lieutenant governor's race. While I am disappointed with the outcome, I respect their decision,” said Lager in a statement.

Kinder will square off against former state Auditor Susan Montee, who easily prevailed in a crowded Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. Montee received 45 percent of the vote, compared to 16 percent for former state Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, and 12 percent for St. Louis School Board member Bill Haas.

Start update: In an interview Wednesday morning, Montee chalked up her victory to her name recognition from running statewide twice. She also said her focus on rural areas also helped her cause.

“There is a significant difference between having traveled the state and traveled a legislative district or even a congressional district,” Montee said. “Because it’s a huge state – it’s tough, it’s tough. And when I was state auditor, I went everywhere.”

Before the election, Montee told the Beacon that Kinder would be a challenging opponent. Not only does he possess fundraising prowess and experience running statewide, but she said in July that Kinder defeating Lager would show Republicans are “willing to still vote for him and then he’s got a tremendous, tremendous name ID advantage.”

On Wednesday, Montee reiterated that taking on Kinder wouldn’t be easy. But she added she’s up for the challenge.

“Had someone else been sitting in the position that I’m in, they would have a lot tougher time than I’m going to have,” Montee said. “Because I think I’ve shown that I actually can compete in some way on name ID. So at least we’ve got some kind of parity. He may have more name ID, because he’s certainly been in the news more.” End update.

Spence to take on Nixon

Spence will take on Nixon in the fall after decisively defeating two other major contenders in the GOP primary for governor.

With a multimillion dollar ad campaign fueled by his own money and plenty of high-level endorsements, Spence outpaced his rivals in the realm of name recognition. He had some missteps, though, especially with questions about his votes on the board of a bank about paying back TARP money.

At a election party, Spence told the crowd for "the past 26 years, Jay Nixon has been running for office and living off us." He added that the election is a choice between a "proven private job creator like Dave Spence" versus a "career politician like Jay Nixon"

"The career politicians like Jay Nixon don't know how to create jobs, but I do," Spence said.

John Sullivan was one of Spence's supporters at his election night party. He said his daughter was friends with Spence's wife since they were 5. 

Sullivan – who gave Spence a “modest donation” during the cycle – said the Kirkwood native is "exactly what we need." 

"I'm basically a Democrat, but I think Dave adds so much I'll cross the line for him," Sullivan said.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell put out a statement after Spence’s victory became apparent, stating that “Missouri needs a governor like Dave Spence who knows what it takes to create jobs.”

“Dave’s built a successful company that’s employed hundreds of Missourians, and he has a business plan for Missouri that will strengthen the economy and add well-paying jobs,” McDonnell said.

Nixon – who dispatched several lesser-known challengers – said in a statement that “other states have seen their Capitols nearly shut down because of partisanship and the inability to come together.” He didn’t mention Spence in his remarks.

“Washington, D.C., is mired in gridlock. Lots of fighting and finger-pointing,” Nixon said. “Folks too busy yelling at each other to recognize where common ground may exist. We’ve shown that we’re better than that here in Missouri.”

Start update: Isaac Wright, a spokesman for the Missouri Democratic Party, added that Spence has emerged from the primary “with his credibility in tatters and his judgment in question.” 

“Missouri voters want someone who shoots straight and protects their tax dollars – Dave Spence has shown that he’s capable of neither,” Wright said in a statement. End update.

Schoeller wins secretary of state primary

Start update: On Wednesday afternoon, Shane Schoeller released a statement declaring victory in the GOP race of the secretary of state nomination.

“I am honored by the support we have received from all across Missouri throughout this campaign,” Schoeller said in the statement. “I want to thank Sens. Scott Rupp and Bill Stouffer for running strong, energetic campaigns. Together, we share a vision of restoring integrity to the secretary of state’s office after eight years of Robin Carnahan’s abuse of power and political games.” End update.

As of noon Wednesday, Schoeller was ahead by several thousand votes over state Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles, and state Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton. With all precincts reporting on the secretary of state's website, Schoeller was ahead with 193,145 votes. Rupp received 188,636 votes, while Stouffer snagged 165,524 votes.

As expected, the three candidates' vote totals splintered by region. Schoeller performed best in southwest Missouri areas such as Greene County. Rupp easily took counties within the St. Louis metro area, while Stouffer performed best in outstate Missouri.

The contest between the three Republican legislators was generally civil until the last week of the contest. Rupp and Stouffer released TV ads attacking Schoeller for voting fotlegislation setting up a health-insurance exchange.

The winner will face Kander, who easily dispatched Kansas City resident MD Alam in the Democratic primary. Kander has emerged as the money leader in the contest to replace Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, who is not seeking a third term.

All three Republican candidates emphasized support for photo identification requirement to vote. Democrats argued that such a law amounts to voter suppression of the elderly and the poor. 

Schoeller also put forth a proposal to set up an outside commission to review ballot summaries, which he said last month would have prevented recent controversies over initiative synopses.

In an interview before the polls closed, Kander dismissed that proposal as bringing in more input from politicians to determine summaries. Rupp and Stouffer also disagreed with the plan.

“We have to have someone in the secretary of the state’s office in the coming years that’s going to take a non-partisan and fair approach. That’s always the approach I’m going to take,” Kander said. “I’ve got a record of being able to stand up and be independent against special interests of both parties.”

Martin to take on Koster

The Republican primary for attorney general had no surprises. St. Louis attorney Ed Martin easily won the right to take on Attorney General Chris Koster in November.

Martin defeated Livingston County Prosecutor Adam Warren in the low-key bid for the statewide office. Martin raised considerably more money than Warren, and picked up endorsements from a raft of key Republican officials. He was also named to lead a coordinated effort to help the Republican ticket in the fall.

Martin – who had previously announced bids for the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House – said in an interview earlier on Tuesday that his first statewide bid was “very different in the sense that there was more ground to cover.” But he added “Missourians are really ready for new leadership.”

Both Martin and Warren had criticized Koster for not being aggressive enough against the Affordable Care Act, even though the first-term official had filed an amicus brief claiming that the individual mandate was unconstitutional.

One thing Koster is likely to point out throughout the campaign is his prosecutorial experience, an attribute in which he alluded to in a prepared statement to reporters.

“I am deeply committed to my role as our state’s top prosecutor, and am dedicated to putting law enforcement above party politics,” Koster said. “I have spent my career prosecuting our state’s worst criminals, scam artists and fraudulent businesses, and look forward to standing up on behalf of the people of Missouri in a second term.”

But Martin said there’s more to the office than just prosecuting criminals.

“The people are going to have to understand and hopefully we’ll get a chance to talk about the office – the attorney general,” Martin said. “The attorney general … is the chief legal officer for the state. And while there is certainly criminal law involved, much of the job is just being a straight lawyer for the state.

“People are going to look at 'Obamacare' and the use of campaign money to influence decisions in the office and I think you’re going to come away and say ‘what we need is someone who’s going to do the job,’” he added.

Prayer amendment passes

Meanwhile, Missouri voters overwhelming approved an amendment to the Missouri Constitution aimed at protecting public prayer. The roughly 400 word addition received 667,713 “yes” votes, compared to 130,109 no votes.

Start update: Supporters of the measure argued it would provide specificity to public officials dealing with public prayer. That included Joe Ortwerth, the executive director of the Missouri Family Policy Council.

He said on Wednesday that “Missourians sent a pretty convincing message that they want to have their religious freedoms respected and accommodated.”

“It’s obvious from the extent and the support registered for the proposition that this issue cut across the political spectrum,” Ortwerth added. “Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican or Independent, people see prayer is a beneficial thing. Asking for God’s blessing and guidance on our affairs in our private lives and in our public activity is helpful. And it’s clear that Missouri has the strongest state constitutional provisions protecting religious freedom of any state in the country.”

Opponents, though, countered that the measure was unnecessary and that it could allow students to opt out of assignments because of religious beliefs. They also hinted it could lead to litigation against public entities, which in effect could cost taxpayers.

"We are particularly concerned that Amendment 2 will result in proselytizing or discrimination against religious minorities or persons of no faith in government and public settings, including schools," said Karen Aroesty, the regional director of the the Anti-Defamation League for Missouri and Southern Illinois, in a statement. “Amendment 2 will provide no additional or unique religious protection for Missourians that doesn’t already exist in law. We suggest that voters closely follow Amendment 2 in the next step of the democratic process as it is challenged in the federal courts in the very near future." End update.

Beacon intern Neel Thakkar contributed to this story.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.