The past few months have not been kind to Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder.
With nearly three decades of experience in state government, success in winning statewide elective office and a potent political organization, Kinder was long thought to be the Republican standard-bearer for governor next year. He also stood aside from running for governor in 2008, a move that gave him a chance to become the defacto leader of the Missouri GOP when the party fared poorly that year.
But 2011 has been a different story. The Cape Girardeau native ended up reimbursing the state tens of thousands of dollars after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on his frequent St. Louis hotel stays. His campaign-funded car was stolen and rammed into a gun shop, an event made a bit more embarrassing since he told the Southeast Missourian that he left his keys in the car.
And now, a series of articles in The Riverfront Times featuring accusations from a former stripper have ensnarled Kinder in a less-than-flattering situation. St. Louis bartender Tammy Chapman told the paper that, among other things, Kinder was aggressive with her when she worked as a stripper at a Sauget club in the 1990s. She also said that Kinder asked her to move into a condo paid for with campaign dollars when the two ran into each other earlier this year at a St. Louis City bar.
In a round of media interviews last week, Kinder denied a number of Chapman’s allegations. He did say, though, that he visited strip clubs east of the Mississippi River numerous times in the 1990s.
The flap prompted a major political donor – southwest Missouri businessman David Humphreys – to call on Kinder to stand down from running for governor. And on Tuesday, state Rep. Kevin Elmer, R-Nixa, penned a letter essentially repeating that message. A spokesman for Kinder’s campaign told the southwest Missouri-based site PoliticMo that Kinder continues to “enjoy strong support from all across the state.”
One problem for Republicans who want to replace Kinder on the ticket is a lack of viable alternatives. Even though the General Assembly is overflowing with Republican lawmakers, a sitting member of the legislature hasn’t won the governor's race since 1944. And it would be a tough sell, for example, for a sitting GOP congressman or congresswoman to vacate a likely-safe seat to engage in a tough race against Gov. Jay Nixon.
George Connor, a professor of political science at Missouri State University, said it is “not inevitable” that Kinder will be replaced on the GOP ticket.
“There are campaign tactic avenues in which Lt. Gov. Kinder can defend himself against these allegations and move forward,” Connor said in a telephone interview. “I think the bigger question is do the Republicans have a viable alternative to Lt. Gov. Kinder? There, the answer is probably no.”
Connor said though that any GOP candidate is going to have trouble defeating Nixon, a Democrat who has performed well in places such as St. Charles County, Greene County and urban areas such as St. Louis City.
“Just taking the jump from lieutenant governor to governor is not likely,” said Connor, noting that former Gov. Mel Carnahan was the only lieutenant governor in recent memory to win. “I think a big-name, previous statewide winner or previous statewide runner – say [former Sen. Jim Talent or former House Budget Chairman Allen Icet] for example – they’re not going to get into this race. Because they’re going to spend time and energy and money and still not win.”
One thing to watch out for, of course, is how the presidential race will affect elections down the ballot. If President Barack Obama writes off Missouri, that could mean fewer resources for candidates such as Sen. Claire McCaskill, (D-Mo.), and Nixon.
But it’s worth watching in the near future whether more Republican lawmakers, donors and activists start making noise about Kinder’s future.
Because and were successful in their electoral quests in 2011, their old House seats are vacant. But they won’t be for long.
That’s because Gov. Jay Nixon set November 8 as the special election date for the 15th District state House seat – which was vacated by Faith after she won the St. Charles mayor’s race – and the 83rd District House seat – which Zimmerman left after cruising to victory in the assessor’s contest. Nixon also set the November 8 election date for two state legislative districts in Kansas City.
Zimmerman’s district includes Olivette and will likely lean Democratic. Faith won her re-election by a wide margin in 2010 running the St. Charles-based district, but has experienced some close races before.
It should be noted that the composition of these districts could be much different in 2012 than in 2011. That’s because state legislative districts are still in the process of being redrawn. A panel of appeals court judges will