One of the most anticipated campaigns in Missouri next year is the race for a pretty mundane job — secretary of state.
The expected candidates are Jason Kander, the Kansas Citian and Democrat who now holds the job, and Will Kraus, the Republican state senator from Lee’s Summit.
Both politicians are young and energetic. Both are military veterans. Both are considered stars in their parties, with bright futures ahead.
So imagine the head-scratching last week when news surfaced that Kander is seriously thinking about forgoing the secretary of state campaign in 2016 to take on incumbent U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt.
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Some Democrats scoffed, calling the idea preposterous. Blunt has more than $2 million in the bank, hasn’t made any serious mistakes, and is a Republican in an increasingly red state. Beating Blunt would take a perfect campaign — and even then might fall short.
Other Democrats seemed more intrigued.
The 2016 election is a presidential year, they pointed out. That should increase turnout in urban areas, helping Kander.
Kander’s service in the military would provide a strong contrast with Blunt’s lack of a military record. And Blunt’s long tenure in Washington might be more of a liability than an asset in 2016.
Blunt has angered some in his own party, too. He tried to push Todd Akin off the 2012 Senate ballot, and there are whispers of a tea party primary challenge. That could further weaken the GOP incumbent.
Of course, Sen. Pat Roberts faced similar challenges in Kansas in 2014 and had a residency problem Blunt doesn’t. Roberts won going away.
It’s likely Kander knows that history. He’s got a tough decision to make, and soon.
Democrats said Kander remains extraordinarily ambitious. A 2016 loss to Blunt wouldn’t be fatal, they insisted: It would make him the leading Democratic Senate contender in 2018, should Sen. Claire McCaskill unexpectedly decide to retire, or make him a familiar statewide name for other races in the 2020s.
They also said the political ground is littered with candidates who waited for opportunities that never actually developed. Who knows what the issues will be in 2022 or 2024? The hurdles in 2016, by contrast, are relatively well known.
A Kander for Senate campaign remains a long shot — one Democrat put the odds at one in five. If that changes this summer, though, the most anticipated Missouri race in 2016 won’t be for secretary of state.