Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander confirmed a month of backstage whispers Thursday by officially announcing his campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2016.
Kander, a Kansas Citian, is expected to face Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican.
“He has become an extremist that refuses to work with anyone who doesn’t agree with him 100 percent of the time,” the Democrat said of Blunt.
The tough statement was just one salvo in a daylong exchange involving Kander and surrogates from both political parties. The initial statements suggest the campaign will be as aggressive as any in recent memory in Missouri.
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“Jason Kander is already bored with his job,” said a statement from Andrea Bozek, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. She called him a “typical, overly ambitious politician who refuses to tell you that he’s a Democrat.”
The Missouri Republican Party chimed in as well.
“Jason Kander has already proven himself to be a dyed-in-the-wool liberal,” said a statement from outgoing party chairman Ed Martin.
Democrats quickly rallied around the first-term Missouri secretary of state. They said Kander gives their party a legitimate shot at taking what was once considered a safe Republican U.S. Senate seat.
“Missouri deserves a senator who will put politics aside and work with both parties to do what’s best for their state,” said a statement from Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, Gov. Jay Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster, all Democrats, endorsed Kander in statements Thursday.
Blunt did not comment publicly.
Kander’s decision was not a surprise. Supporters say he has long been politically ambitious and may have determined his best opportunity is facing Blunt, who is finishing his first Senate term.
Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia, said Thursday that Blunt remains the favorite in Missouri, but “Kander has the energy and ambition to make a contest of this.”
He said the presidential race could help Kander, who is 33, if the Democratic presidential nominee makes the state competitive.
At the same time, the state’s increasingly conservative electorate could make Kander’s uphill effort even more challenging, he said.
The race will probably be expensive. Candidate committees and outside groups spent more than $49 million in the 2012 U.S. Senate race involving McCaskill, Todd Akin and two other GOP primary candidates.
Kander said he will raise enough money to compete with Blunt, who is 65. Blunt’s campaign committee had $2.2 million on hand at the end of 2014.
Kander said he won’t use any of the funds in his existing state committee for the Senate race.