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Kander announces bid for U.S. Senate in 2016, hopes to take on Blunt

Secretary of State Jason Kander announced Thursday he will run for the U.S. Senate. It sets up a collision course with U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
File photo by Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Secretary of State Jason Kander at an event in St. Louis last year. Kander announced Thursday he will run for the U.S. Senate.

Secretary of State Jason Kander announced Thursday he will run for the U.S. Senate next year.

It’s a move that ensures U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., will have competition in 2016 – and opens up a down-ballot statewide contest for both parties.

Kander said in an interview that he was running for the Senate, instead of re-election, because of his concerns about the dysfunction in the nation's capital and in Congress. "Washington is broken right now and Missouri deserves a senator who represents our middle-class families and looks out for Missourians and not the special intersts,'' Kander said. "We need someone who can show folks in Washington that compromise is a part of democracy and not the enemy of it."

Kander – a Kansas City native and first-term statewide officeholder – made the announcement in a web video. In the video, he appears at Kansas City’s airport talking about his time serving in Afghanistan –an experience that also was a major theme of his 2012 bid for secretary of state.

He said in the video “even with our economy suffering at home and our national security threatened abroad, too many politicians in both political parties have been more concerned with scoring political points than doing what’s right for our country.”

Kander said that's "why I’ve decided to run for the United States Senate. Missouri has a senator who’s been in Washington for nearly 20 years and has been running for one political office or another for nearly 40 years. For too long, he’s been a part of the problem – voting to shut down the Senate, block economic progress and good ideas just because they came from somebody in the other party.”

“We can’t change Washington if we don’t change the people we send there,” he added.

Missouri Democrats align behind Kander

An attorney, Kander was elected to the Missouri House in 2008 and served two terms. He narrowly defeated former state Rep. Shane Schoeller, R-Willard, in 2012 for secretary of state, becoming one of the youngest statewide officeholders in the nation.

Kander's plans to run for U.S. Senate, instead of re-election, had been rumored for weeks. His announcement comes just a day before Missouri Republicans gather in Kansas City for their party's annual Lincoln Days festivities.

His press release announcing his Senate bid also features endorsements from Democratic statewide officials – including U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., state Treasurer Clint Zweifel and Attorney General Chris Koster.  St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones will serve as treasurer for Kander’s campaign.

“There is no stronger candidate in Missouri to take on Sen. Blunt than Jason Kander. And no one better to fight on behalf of Missouri's working families,” McCaskill said in a statement.

The state Democratic Party -- which now is being backrolled largely by McCaskill -- has made clear its commitment to aiding Kander.   The party has hired Chris Hayden as a staffer who will be assigned solely to Kander's campaign. Hayden previously had worked for McCaskill and, most recently, North Carolina Democrat Kay Hagan, who lost her Senate re-election campaign last fall.

Votevets.org, a progressive pro-veterans group, also announced its support for Kander. Later Thursday, the National Jewish Democratic Council announced its support for Kander,  noting that nine current U.S. senators are Jews.

Kander has a reputation as an excellent fundraiser and an energetic campaigner. But his ability to compete with Blunt could depend on whether the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee supports his bid over the next year and a half. Candidates without the DSCC’s financial and organization support usually have a tough time.

The chairman of the DSCC, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana -- who's close to McCaskill -- issued a statement praising Kander's decision. Tester also highlighted Kander's military service. "Jason’s experience serving his country in Afghanistan and as a U.S. Army captain, and his time in the General Assembly and secretary of state’s office leaves him well equipped to fight for Missouri’s middle class against Washington D.C.’s powerful special interests."

Kander also will need to prove to Democratic donors that he has a chance.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
Credit (via Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

Blunt is a former Missouri secretary of state and a former member of the U.S. House, where he wielded some influence. Before the 2000 election, for example, he had led then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush's congressional contingent.

Blunt also is the father of former Gov. Matt Blunt.

Roy Blunt possesses one of the best GOP organizations in the state and already has $2.2 million on hand. He is a subcommittee chairman on the Senate Appropriations Committee and a part of the Senate Republican leadership – which means he’ll have little trouble raising funds for his re-election bid.

Republicans blast Kander as inexperienced, overambitious

Missouri GOP Chairman Ed Martin said in a statement that Kander’s announcement is “nothing short of a doubling down on the failed policies Missourians are accustomed to seeing out of Washington Democrats.”

“Just two years into statewide office, Kander has tried doing everyone’s job but his own and can’t wait to get to Washington to continue the decline the Obama agenda has started,” Martin said in a statement. “Kander will be a fighter for ObamaCare, Obama’s unconstitutional executive amnesty, job-killing regulations and crippling environmental policies.”

Kander’s decision to run for the U.S. Senate means his current position will be open next year. State Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, has already announced his bid for the post, but more Republicans will likely jump into the contest.

Later Thursday, St. Louis lawyer Jay Ashcroft did just that. Ashcroft, a Republican, lost a state Senate contest last fall to Democrat Jill Schupp.

Kander's move could provide an opportunity for Zweifel to run for secretary of state, because the two-term treasurer can’t run for another term and has already sworn off a run for governor. Other hypothetical Democratic contenders include Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders – who almost ran for secretary of state in 2012.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.