This really happened.
A few years ago, I was in the Missouri Capitol one evening for some interviews. It was fall, and the General Assembly was out of session. The statehouse was almost deserted.
I headed down to the first floor in an empty elevator. The doors opened and I came face to face with Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a man I’d covered for two decades. Now, reasonable people might expect a quick exchange of hellos and away we’d go.
But that’s not what happened.
“Hello, governor,” I said.
He boarded the elevator. I stepped off. Two trains passing in the night.
I asked around about Kinder the next day. Turns out, this was par for the course. Kinder is nice some days, I was told, while he seems put off other days.
An odd duck? Perhaps. But he’s a highly successful odd duck, going 6-0 in elections for lieutenant governor and for the Missouri Senate, where he once served as that chamber’s leader.
On Sunday, Kinder said he wants to be the state’s next governor. The question now is whether his eccentricities and previous controversies are a thing of the past or a hurdle he simply can’t get beyond.
Twice before, in 2008 and 2012, Kinder was a candidate for governor, and he backed away both times. The last time, a torrent of 2011 news stories about his relationship with a former Penthouse Pet and a series of taxpayer-funded hotel stays almost surely played a role in his withdrawal. Kinder spent tens of thousands of his own money to cover the hotel stays and move past that issue. But the Pet fiasco came with a price that endures to this day.
A wealthy Kinder backer, David Humphreys, withdrew his support.
“If I had known this about him, I would not have supported him in the past,” Humphreys said at the time.
Republicans began talking about Kinder as a has-been.
Then came a killer. In 2013, Kinder expressed interest in the 8th District congressional seat in southeast Missouri. By any conventional measure, the seat should have been his. But in an upset, committee members went with Jason Smith, a former state representative.
“The Republican Party has moved on without him,” intoned political scientist Dave Robertson.
That was then. Today, based on name identification alone, Kinder ranks as the best known of the GOP lot for governor. A crowded field, which this will be, only plays to his benefit.
Much to many people’s surprise, Kinder is alive and kicking, eccentricities and all.