One of the most intriguing choices Missouri Republicans will make next month is this one:
Brad Lager or Peter Kinder for lieutenant governor?
Lager, 36, is the articulate, fresh-faced upstart who screams potential. He narrowly lost a 2008 race for state treasurer in a big Democratic year, and is in his second term in the state Senate. A Lager win would restock a woefully thin GOP bench with a potential 2016 gubernatorial candidate.
That’s significant. Democrats have held the governor’s office for 16 of the last 20 years.
Kinder, 58, is the grizzled veteran who helped usher in GOP majorities to the General Assembly a decade ago. He’s a three-term veteran of the state Senate, with two terms as lieutenant governor under his belt.
He can be scorching in his criticism of Democrats — a talent that always carries value.
But both candidates face questions.
For Lager, the question is money and, specifically, where he’s getting his. A review of campaign finance reports shows that the bulk of his cash — $1.7 million — comes from just four wealthy families: the Herzogs (of the Herzog Construction Co. of St. Joseph), the Humphreys (of TAMKO Building Products Inc. of Joplin), the Pattersons (of the Cerner Corp. of North Kansas City) and index-fund creator Rex Sinquefield, who underwrites conservatives. Sinquefield contributed $385,000 to Lager on June 25, one of the largest individual donations in state history.
Nothing illegal about such big donations in wide-open Missouri politics. But they raise issues over how indebted Lager might feel toward his generous benefactors.
Of the four families, only Sinquefield has an agenda, Lager said. The other families are “just backing a candidate.”
“I argue that a candidate who raises the majority of his money from special interests, different lobbyists or developers who want more tax credits, is way more dangerous than a handful of philosophical donors who want to go in a different direction,” Lager added.
Yet Kinder countered: “There’s no precedent for such a concentration of money to flow to a single candidate from so few people.”
Kinder, however, has his own issues that ultimately drove him from a much-anticipated race for governor this year against Jay Nixon. Those issues included stories about his relationship with a former Penthouse Pet, and a St. Louis Post-Dispatch story that raised questions about a long list of Kinder hotel stays that taxpayers covered.
Kinder wound up writing a personal check to the state for more than $50,000 “to remove any taint from my name.”
Lager, though, is pounding Kinder on the hotel rooms in his ads. Lager told me: “I feel pretty comfortable telling you that (wife) Stephanie and I don’t want a role model like Peter Kinder for our children.”
Issues won’t be a decisive factor. This is a race for the state’s second banana, after all.
But these are two very different candidates.
To reach Steve Kraske, call 816-234-4312 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @stevekraske.