St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Kevin McDermott reports (October 14) that Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder is getting some heat from within his own Republican Party for showing an interest in running for Congress next year. Against a fellow Republican who just got elected a few months ago.
Reporters love conflict and the Missourinet is one of the news organizations that will watch as this situation shakes out in coming months. We confess to a perverse hope that it doesn’t shake out too quickly.
But let’s have a little sympathy for Peter Kinder. He’s in a tough spot.
He likes being a public figure. He likes having a political pulpit from which he can expound, challenge, apply pressure, and get a share of the spotlight. He’s intelligent. He has an ego. He was one of the brash young Republican Turks who helped end Democratic control of the legislature. The Missourinet has covered his political career since he arrived at the Capitol twenty years ago.
He’s in his third term as Lieutenant Governor and the Governorship appears to be a long shot for him in 2016, as it was in 2012 when he irritated some of his fellow Republicans by deciding not to challenge Jay Nixon after spending four years criticizing him. Any other state office would be a step down for him. He would be obliterated in a primary election against Senator Blunt.
He’ll turn 60 next year, an age when many people, particularly those in politics, more seriously address their mortality, particularly their political mortality. He’ll be about four months short of 63 when his term runs out. He has a law degree but other than a few years as a corporate attorney for the Drury Hotel people, he hasn’t built many credentials as a lawyer. For a while, he was an associate editor of the Cape Girardeau Southeast Missourian newspaper, contributing weekly columns and editorials. Becoming a fulltime lawyer at 63 with limited previous experience and after two decades in public office or going back to writing columns for a southeast Missouri newspaper after two decades in the political spotlight might not be the most appealing existence after being so much a center of attention for so long. So where does that leave him?
Ousting Congressman Jason Smith seems to be his best chance for continuing to be a public figure. And if that’s his best– or realistically only–opening, Kinder has to go for it.
True, the congressional district Republican hierarchy chose Smith over him as the nominee to replace Jo Ann Emerson this year. But that was not the broad general public that made that decision. Smith’s political base has been in the rural area around his home town of Lake Spring, in Dent County. Kinder’s political base has been in the district’s largest city, Cape Girardeau and he represented a larger area as a senator than Smith did as a state representative.
Smith has been a Congressman only since June and while he is an incumbent, he is not yet a fully-ensconced incumbent with the full incumbent’s advantages in a re-election bid. Two years from now, when Kinder’s third term in the lite gov’s office is winding down, Smith will be much stronger, assuming he hasn’t done something stupid that alienates the folks at home or a noisy segment of them.
This is the time for Kinder to make a move if he’s going to make one.
Some Republican party people might not like it—some Republican party people have not been Kinderophiles for some time–but there aren’t many options at this point for Peter Kinder, who has not shown much public concern for criticism of what he does or says. Even when paying for some questionable hotel bills, he showed no particular remorse. And he proved in his most recent re-election campaign that was dogged by stories of friendship with an adult performance artist and defections of major financial supporters that he could take some pretty strong punches and still win.
So why not run for Congress?
Lightning rods are lightning rods. They can’t be anything else–not radio antennas, for example.
Peter Kinder is just being Peter Kinder. He doesn’t want to be anything else–a private citizen for example.
And that’s okay. As we say in the reporting biz, he’s good copy.