JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – While most statewide elections are still in primary season, Secretary of State Jason Kander’s bid for Sen. Roy Blunt’s seat in D.C. is in full swing, garnering national attention.
After President Barack Obama lost Missouri in each of his two elections to the office of president, the traditional bellwether of Missouri, which had reliably voted for the victorious presidential candidate from 1904 to 2004, became another fairly reliably red state on the national stage, despite six of its eight statewide office holders being Democrats. So when Kander first announced he was running to replace Blunt, most of the D.C. media met the news with a shrug.
However, the race has garnered more and more attention as a state that could flip in a year expected to foster moderate Democratic gains in Congress and in the Senate. In March, The Hill and The Washington Post marked it as the 10th most likely state to flip of the 34 up for grabs, and Politico ranked it ninth in January. Roll Call has placed the race as high as eighth.
“Over the last nine months, I’ve been to every single county in this state… to talk to Missourians about how they would fix Congress and about what they think is wrong with Congress,” Kander said at an event Tuesday. “I’ve known for quite a while that we’ve had an excellent chance to win this race.”
All of those sources credit Kander’s strong credentials and qualities with why the race even has a ranking. Kander is a 35-year-old Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, and while he generally holds liberal views, he has attempted to distance himself from Obama on a few occasions. Regardless, he has impressed national Democratic party leadership, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.
“I love all five of them… but the man that was stunning in his approach and in his speech was Jason Kander,” Reid said in an interview with Politico. “That guy is good.”
It currently remains to be seen if Kander is “stunning” enough to pull in more money he will need to top Blunt. Kander has only raised about $4.5 million for his campaign, while Blunt has raised more than double that – $10.2 million.
Still, with real estate and branding mogul Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination, some Republican legislators on Capitol Hill have scrambled to distance themselves from a candidate many are reluctant to fully endorse. Many believe Trump’s nomination could hurt down-ballot Republican candidates in some parts of the country.
Kander believes Blunt is “supporting an extremist for president,” but he also believes Trump supporters should recognize that when Trump rails against the inefficacy of politicians in Washington, they should note that Blunt has been in the nation’s capital for two decades.
Make no mistake though, Blunt still has the upper hand in most metrics. A MO Scout poll from November had Blunt winning 43 percent to 33 percent. While a March poll had Kander gaining a little ground, Blunt still had a 44-37 lead. And all of the national sites agree that while Kander beating Blunt has become plausible, it’s far from likely to happen, especially after Missouri voted overwhelmingly for Mitt Romney in 2012.
And while the increased attention may bring Kander more donors, it could also make him a larger focus of the opposition. Kander is one of 14 Democratic Senate candidates being targeted by the America Rising PAC, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee has also spent resources on the race. The latter even branded Kander “The Pandering Panda” for his own time spent in Washington, complete with a man in a panda suit brandishing money bags.
Ironically, the two seem eager to criticize each other for similar things. Kander points out what he perceives as Blunt’s relationship with special interests, the two most recently got into a spat over which one was using veterans as “political props,” and the other’s deep roots in Washington politics.
The digs have been smaller in scale as well. In a failed attempt to tie Blunt to D.C. even more, Abe Rakov, Kander’s campaign manager, took heat from Blunt supporters when he went after a young Blunt volunteer for wearing what he thought was a Washington Nationals baseball cap. It turned out to be a hat for the volunteer’s local high school baseball team.
With both sides more than happy to go on the offensive as early as they have, no one doubts the race could get even more contentious by November, especially with so much on the line. Every Senate seat that could be contested this cycle could make big difference as to what happens whenever Trump or Clinton inhabits the Oval Office.
The Blunt campaign did not immediately return calls to comment on the story.