Carthage, MO – Whatever happens today Peter Kinder will always hold an important place in the history of the Missouri Republican Party, and will always a place of distain within the Missouri Democratic Party. He has fought toe to toe with Ken Jacob on the Senate Floor, Becki Cook in a statewide election, the Democratic party wave that nearly sunk him along with the rest of the ticket in 08 after he lost a intersquad match to run for Governor, has won over many St. Louis area Democrats, and beat back a full throated assault from the media and Brad Lager in the 2012 primary. He is now running against another former statewide elected official Susan Montee for a third term as Lt. Governor. We followed him through a day of campaigning in southwest Missouri where we watched him visit with State Senators, farmers, staffers, retirees, and State Representatives and then traveled with him to a Republican Party function and discussed his primary and the future.
Watching Peter Kinder move through the crowd at the Carthage Fire Department Pancake Breakfast you realize he is no rookie at making a room, and further it’s easier to notice that this isn’t his first Carthage Fire Department Pancake Breakfast. Over the years and the hundreds of thousands of miles Peter Kinder has traveled throughout the state, one thing is clear to his friends and maybe more clear to his enemies, Peter Kinder is battle tested.
As Kinder arrived at the breakfast around 6:45 a.m. a firefighter offered to usher him in, but Kinder having been to literally thousands of these events seemed to instinctively know better. He stood in line in the brisk October morning and visited with everyone else waiting outside the firehouse. Ken Williamson who waited in line with Kinder remarked, “I offered to let him pass, but he seemed perfectly happy standing there talking about how we need to end Obamacare”.
At the end of the line was a double stack and an open seat between a little girl and the Hoover family from Carl’s Junction in the middle of the fire station. After Kinder left I took his seat and visited David Hoover. “He was a real regular guy. I knew who he was, recognized him from the paper, but he wasn’t pushy. He never dropped his name or title we just chatted about the Cardinals and gas prices, and of course the pancakes”.
That is when six year old Anna broke in and said she showed him how to put syrup on the pancakes and he helped her with her parade wave, Anna was due to be in the parade later that morning. She referred to Kinder as that man with the shiny hair, and seemed to like him especially because they were both going to be in the parade later. When I told her he was the Lt. Governor she seemed more impressed that he finished all of his pancakes. Not everyone at the table was impressed though, there was one democrat from Springfield who couldn’t help but comment, “I’m sick of hearing from him, he is washed up”. Kinder is one of the few republican office holders who have been around long enough, and been through enough battles, that average southwest Missouri Democrats know him when they see him across the table eating pancakes.
While leaving we saw Congressman Billy Long walking up to the breakfast. You could tell he thought about going right in, but then thought better of it as well. While in line we asked him what he thought about Kinder. He said that Kinder has always done well in the 7th because he has been coming here regularly since he was a state senator stumping for a majority in the State Senate back in the 90’s. “He knows the area, when you explain an issue he is already up to speed on it”, said Roger Williams, a Carthage Fire Department Captain who heard us talking he continued, “He is a good guy, has always helped us out. I was glad he was back here this morning”.
We caught up with Kinder later in the morning at a classic car garage downtown visiting with Senator Ron Richard, and Representative Tom Flanigan. While Kinder seemed at ease working the room at the Carthage Firehouse he was clearly in his element telling jokes and swapping old stories with the two legislators.
The three of them worked their way through the political landscape all the way from the 2012 race for the White House to the first Republican Jasper County Sheriff since the civil war. “Kinder, you made the right call being here today. These are the folks that will keep you in office”, Flanigan not so subtly reminded him while reviewing the high points of the Battle of Carthage from 1861.
They matched each other joke for joke and story for story until Kinder, who does have a unique knack for telling a story, particularly a political story, brought out a closer after noticing the Purdy marching band about former congressman Gene Taylor. Kinder took a step back from two others and after spreading his arms and raising his already loud baritone he began, “Back in the 80’s when I was working for Bill Emerson there was a political event a couple days after a big basketball game between Mizzou when they were ranked in the top 10 against Georgetown who was ranked 5th in the nation in Columbia. Politician after politician took to the podium and said almost braggingly that they were at the big game and it was a shame that MU came up short. Bond, Danforth, and so on all said they were as the big game Saturday night and sure a shame that the boys came up short. Well Gene Taylor stepped up to the mic and said he too was at the big game Saturday night, and Ava beat Purdy 53-49”.
After the three of them finished laughing I asked Senator Richard why he supported Kinder, “He has been the tip of the spear of this party for 20 years. He was key in flipping the Senate, and he was the only Republican to survive in ’08, and he is just a fighter. I also like him”. While we chatted Kinder sprung into action taking the picture for a campaign float of the Carthage High School Class of 68.
While Kinder toured the other floats his campaign squad was getting organized. Rachel Hassani a paid campaign aide who put the parade crew together that morning had an interesting take on what brought her to the Maple Leaf Parade, “It inspired me that he stood up to Obamacare and filed a lawsuit to stop it. He didn’t spend government money and resources to fight it. He fought his own fight and raised the money for the suit to fight Obamacare. He believes in this fight, and I believe in him”.
Working the parade route Kinder seemed more interested in shaking hands than the candy distribution. No one I was standing by along the sidewalk knew who he was, but the older man leaning against the street sign knew he was “someone in government” until while working the parade route Kinder stuck out his hand at that peculiar near right angle from his wrist and shook hands with Tom Boydston of Joplin then he was won over. Kinder worked the line in deliberate style, like someone who had logged a hundred miles of parade routes. Nothing particularly spectacular just another event logged on a deliberate path to another term.
Kinder seemed to enjoy his interactions with fellow parade goers in Carthage, but there was a definite bounce in his step when he a walked into a Republican party event in Monett. While he walked up to other parade floats to introduce himself in Carthage amongst the party faithful the people who he has spent the last 30 years eating chicken dinners with he had a bigger smile and the handshakes were firmer. It would make sense; the Republicans in this corner of the state stuck with Kinder during his contentious primary this year and are the ones who pound the pavement to turn out each vote in the reliably Republican 7th district.
The question we had for this group of southwest Missouri Republicans was not whether or not they will be voting for Kinder tomorrow, but why did they vote for Kinder last August and do they see him as a person they will vote for in the Republican primary for Governor in four years.
Marlin Trout supported Kinder because he has always been the most conservative candidate in the race. When asked if he believed Kinder was the leading contender for the gubernatorial nomination in ’16 he replied, “I think that is a real possibility, if Spence loses I want someone who is battle tested, who has been tried by fire, say what you want about Peter he has been seared and is stronger than steel”.
Robin Shelton who was attending her 4th Republican event this fall did not support Kinder in the primary, but feels he has put any of the issues his opponent State Senator Brad Lager campaigned on behind him. “I admired how he kept his head up and fought through the primary. His winning has made me look at him differently, and I think that stuff is behind him. I would like to support someone who will be able to withstand the liberal media’s attacks that any conservative will have to handle, and he has proven he can do it”.
However, another person at her table Karen Singleton wanted to see more before coming to a conclusion on Kinder, “I am still ticked at him, but his work fighting Obamacare give him a lot of credibility in the bank with me”.
One older gentleman was analytical in his take on Kinder. Over lunch Ralph Todd broke down the last few years for Kinder in notable detail, “Look, realistically the deck was stacked against him or anyone else in ’08 and lets be honest Nixon will be tough to beat this year. If Peter wins this election he will be the clear front-runner with all of that hotel mess behind him to run against a democrat after eight years of a democratic Governor. I voted for Peter, and he prolly did deserve a tough go of it, but he won, and look no one has fought harder for this party than Peter. Hell he knows Rush Limbaugh. I think that Peter Kinder is more realistically closer to the Governor’s mansion than ever”.
While Ralph was breaking down the nuts and bolts of his career I nearly missed his speech. Kinder quoted Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” speech and lauded the fact that he led a successful court challenge to Robin Carnahan’s ballot language on a proposition. No matter whether you view him as just a party elder, damaged goods, the presumptive candidate for governor, everyone knows Peter Kinder has been battle tested.