The Missouri Senate race features a Republican incumbent who heads a political dynasty in a state that has grown more conservative in recent years. This didn’t look like a competitive contest a few months ago.
|The IBEW supports Jason Kander for U.S. Senate in Missouri. Kander, 35, served in Afghanistan as a military intelligence officer.
Jason Kander had other ideas. The Democratic nominee is closing ground and now has a chance to spring an upset.
“He did his homework,” said Missouri AFL/CIO treasurer and St. Louis Local 1 member Jake Hummel, who served alongside Kander in the Missouri House of Representatives from 2009-13. “He knew what he was doing. Jason would not have gone into that race if he didn’t think he had a chance to win.”
Kander, 35, served in Afghanistan as a military intelligence officer. He also is a former union member and now serves as Missouri’s secretary of state. He’ll face GOP incumbent Roy Blunt in November.
A Public Policy Polling survey in mid-July found Kander trailing Blunt just 41-38 percent among statewide voters. A Mason-Dixon Polling & Research poll sponsored by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and conducted between the two national political conventions found Blunt with a 47-43 lead. The pollster noted that incumbents who poll under 50 percent usually are considered vulnerable.
Kander’s deficit was in the double digits in some polls earlier this year.
Blunt has served 20 years in Congress and he hasn’t been particularly friendly to working families. His lifetime AFL-CIO record is 16 percent. Like many establishment Republicans, he skipped the party’s convention this summer to concentrate on his re-election. The Public Policy Polling survey found that 31 percent of the respondents approved of his job performance while 42 percent disapproved.
The Cook Political Report recently changed the race from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican”, its most competitive ranking outside of tossup. IBEW leaders in the state said they sense Kander has the momentum.
“Senator Blunt doesn’t have very good approval ratings,” said Kansas City Local 124 President Rudy Chavez, who is also the state’s political director. “Here you have a young, articulate candidate who is putting himself out there. A lot of people want to get rid of the establishment legislators up there in Washington and that’s certainly Senator Blunt.”
A graduate of Georgetown Law School, Kander entered the National Guard following 9/11 and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2006. After returning to Missouri, he was a member of the United Transportation Union while representing its injured members in court cases.
He was twice elected to the Missouri House before winning a close race for secretary of state. He has come out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Hummel says he is confident he will be a friend to working families if elected to the Senate.
“He knows what it’s like to be injured on the job,” Hummel said. “He knows what it’s like for a family to make ends meet.”
Blunt is the kind of Washington insider voters may turn out against this year.
Before being elected to the Senate in 2010, Blunt served seven terms in the House, where he eventually became the majority whip and briefly served as interim majority leader.
He has held elected office all but four years since 1972, including eight years as Missouri secretary of state. One of his sons served a term as Missouri’s governor and another is a top GOP strategist in the state who now is serving as his father’s campaign manager.
IBEW and other unions in Missouri are working to get the vote out for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Koster, the current state attorney general. That might play to Kander’s advantage, too.
“I think it will translate down to Jason if we’re able to turn our people out for Attorney General Koster,” Hummel said. “We’ve designed our political program in anticipation of this race being bumped to a higher target.”
Kander has been active with the Missouri AFL/CIO’s Union Veterans Council. Blunt received three draft deferrals during the Vietnam War and has voted against proposals to extend veterans and educational benefits while a member of the Senate.
“That doesn’t go over real with the veterans who have seen combat,” Chavez said. “They take that as an insult when you can’t pass legislation that makes these veterans whole.”