Perhaps you missed it this week, but Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said he’s thinking about getting into the 2016 race for governor.
Kinder has issued similar announcements in the past, so it isn’t clear how seriously state Republicans should take the news. What is clear is that Kinder would join a jam-packed field if he decided to take the leap.
Five other Republicans — Catherine Hanaway, Mike Parson, John Brunner, Eric Greitens and Randy Asbury — have already expressed interest in the 2016 primary. All are running, or are expected to.
Candidates are jumping into the race because a crowded field lowers the bar for everyone. In a balanced six-person field, a candidate might only need 25 percent of the vote to win the nomination.
That seems easily achievable for almost any of the candidates, particularly since Hanaway, once a clear front-runner, now seems damaged by the fallout from Tom Schweich’s suicide.
When you ask Missouri Republicans about the possibility of a volleyball team primary, they answer with the usual “embarrassment of riches” claim. There’s something to that. A primary with several quality candidates can sharpen arguments and test campaign themes.
But a big primary can backfire, spectacularly. In 1992, three well-known Missouri Republicans went to war to win their party’s nod for governor, a process so damaging that eventual nominee William Webster had no chance against Democrat Mel Carnahan.
In 2016, Missouri Democrats will nominate a rested and well-funded Chris Koster, giving him — and them — a potential advantage.
That’s why some Republicans hope their primary field narrows to two or three candidates. There are 13 other governorships available in the next two years, they point out, and none has a packed primary like Missouri’s.
In fact, the only 2016 field as crowded as Missouri’s primary is the Republican race for president. The GOP presidential primary isn’t volleyball, it’s tackle football. And across the stadium stands Hillary Clinton, rested and rich just like Koster.
There’s danger for Democrats here: Unchallenged candidates can make unforced errors. That’s particularly a risk for Clinton, whom many voters already see as old news. Koster may face a similar problem.
But most Republicans say it’s a problem they’d like to have. Crowded primaries can divide parties and lose elections, a lesson 2016 might provide.