The Buzz

Analysis: Meet the GOP front-runner for Missouri governor


The sudden development that three-term Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder is in the race for Missouri governor flips the math on a primary race that so far is best-known for tragedy.

Kinder kicked off his campaign Sunday in Ferguson at the site of mass protests last year. In a sense, he replaces another statewide official, state Auditor Tom Schweich, who was in the race until he committed suicide in February.

“State government,” Kinder said on Sunday, “failed all these people, failed us all in Missouri.”

Before Schweich’s death, the primary was viewed as a dual between him and former House Speaker Catherine Hanaway.

She then emerged as the favorite to claim the 2016 GOP nomination. But Hanaway’s ties to those who actively opposed Schweich appear to have taken some wind out of her effort.

A coalescence around Hanaway never happened. Instead, other Republicans started emerging. State Sen. Mike Parson jumped in the race. So did former state Rep. Randy Asbury. Eric Greitens, a former Navy Seal from St. Louis, set up an exploratory committee and announced on Sunday that he had raised nearly $800,000 in the second quarter. John Brunner, a St. Louis businessman who ran for U.S. Senate in 2012, also is actively exploring the race.

“All in,” Brunner wrote in an e-mail to The Buzz last week. “Exploratory Committee in the final phase. Formal announcement to follow.”

But all that commotion doesn’t obscure a key fact. And that is that Kinder’s unblemished record of electoral success on statewide ballots — despite a string of controversies over the years — now gives him the title of GOP front-runner just more than a year before the August primary.

Kinder has had to wade through a high-velocity storm of publicity about his ties to a former Penthouse Pet. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted his frequent taxpayer-financed hotel stays. Earlier this year, he complained that he was headed toward “gradual impoverishment” because his $86,000 a year salary didn’t go far enough. His long-time political consultant, David Barklage, has moved on and will work for Brunner.

In 2011, Kinder flipped on a decision to run for governor and instead sought a third term as the state’s second banana. Two years later, he was embarrassed by a loss for the southeast Missouri congressional seat.

But all those controversies now rank as distant history, and collectively they failed to sink Kinder’s ship. He fought off a competitive challenge from Democrat Susan Montee to win his third term in 2012. And in the GOP primary that year, he defeated former state Sen. Brad Lager in another tough fight.

In a crowded primary for governor next year that could reach six candidates or more, Kinder’s name ID from those three terms in office — and his seemingly inexplicable political resilience — will be mighty assets. So will a carefully cultivated St. Louis base that complements his Cape Girardeau home turf. A vote total of 25 or 30 percent could win it.

Money? He starts behind, and this could be an issue.

Hanaway remains a force buoyed by GOP benefactor Rex Sinquefield’s money. As the primary’s only woman, she owns a distinct asset. Brunner and Greitens have appealing profiles and could emerge.

But as of today, Kinder is best-positioned to garner that 30 percent. That’s why he’s the GOP front-runner.