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Nixon, Kinder, Koster and Zweifel re-elected; Kander wins secretary of state race

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 6, 2012 - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon became the fourth man ever to win consecutive terms as the state’s chief executive with a decisive win over Republican businessman Dave Spence.

Attorney General Chris Koster and Treasurer Clint Zweifel, both Democrats, won re-election. Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, one of two Republicans to hold statewide office, is set to take on a third term. And state Rep. Jason Kander prevailed in the hotly contested race for secretary of state.

With all precincts reporting, Nixon bested Spence by a 54.7 percent to 42.6 percent margin. Spence called to concede to Nixon around 10:30 p.m.

After his sons welcomed him to the stage, Nixon told the wildly cheering crowd at the Pageant theater in St. Louis that he had just received a call from Spence congratulating him in his victory. 

Nixon focused his speech on looking ahead, adding that science, technology and education were essential to creating a better state.

Nixon also spoke about his respect for the state itself, including its natural beauty and history. The governor addressed those gathered as being “bound together as Missourians."

At the end, Nixon emphasized that Tuesday was a victory, but still was only a starting point. And he added: “we’ve come a long way —but we’re not done yet.”

“I’ve worked hard for the state that I love and I will keep on working,” Nixon said. “Tonight, we celebrate and tomorrow we get back to work.”

The contest for U.S. Senate, pitting incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill against GOP candidate Todd Akin, overshadowed what would normally have been a high-profile race for governor. Aside from a joint appearance Sept. 21, the two hadn't engaged —except for verbal jabs from the stump.

By the time Dave Spence came out to call it a night and concede the election to Nixon, the crowd had already become more subdued, after news that CNN had declared President Barack Obama the winner of the presidential race.

Spence and his family returned to the podium to the cheers of a smaller, more somber crowd. He said his campaign did well in Springfield and Joplin and places where he expected it to do well. "But we just couldn't get the margins to overcome the metropolitan areas," he added. 

"It's unfortunate but I'm a realist, and the reality is, I can't win," Spence said. "I have called Gov. Nixon and offered him congratulations because that's the right thing to do."

Spence advised his supporters not to give up hope that "nice people" can still be elected in Missouri.

With his victory, Nixon joins Democrat Warren Hearnes, Republican John Ashcroft and Democrat Mel Carnahan as the only Missouri governors to win two consecutive terms. But he'll go into office with a General Assembly with huge GOP majorities.

Koster rolls over Martin

Meanwhile, Koster easily bested Republican attorney Ed Martin in the high-profile clash for attorney general. Koster defeated Martin by a 55.8 percent to 40.7 percent margin.

As soon as Nixon gave his speech, many people didn't stick around to hear Koster's victory message. He thanked voters "from the bottom of my heart" for being allowed to serve as attorney general.

While calling his opponent a "fighter," Koster said he had decided to "ask for his friendship tonight" He also said he was gratified that Obama had won re-election.

Koster used his huge campaign finance advantage to chide Martin for his lack of prosecutorial experience and his legal troubles while serving as Gov. Matt Blunt’s chief of staff.

Martin did attract high-profile Republican officials to campaign for him. including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He also benefited from a flood of third-party ads attacking Koster.

Kinder beats the odds, wins third term

Kinder also emerged victorous, winning his largest margin of victory for a statewide race.

Kinder defeated former state Auditor Susan Montee by a 49.4 percent to 45.4 percent margin. The Cape Girardeau native told the Beacon that Montee "graciously" called him to concede.

With his victory over Montee, Kinder becomes the first lieutenant governor to win a third term in decades. But this win may be his most notable, considering how much Kinder had to go through in a bitterly fought primary and general election to win.

In an interview, Kinder said voters saw almost $3 million of "almost exclusively negative ads thrown at me and said 'those are not the issues that concern us.'"

He also said the margin of victory for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in Missouri showed promise for conservatives.

"Missouri is a center-right state," Kinder said. "I was in grade school when LBJ rolled up a margin [like Romney in Missouri] on Barry Goldwater. We have not seen a margin like that since in a presidential race in this state. That is just a stunning margin. And a stunning repudiation of this president who apparently is now re-elected. But Missourians were not buying it."

Kander and Zweifel prevail 

Meanwhile, Kander edged House Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller by a 48.8 percent to 47.5 percent margin. The Kansas City attorney will replace fellow Democratic secretary of state Robin Carnahan, who decided not to seek a third term.

Kander will be the state’s chief elections official and will oversee ballot summary language for initiative petitions, an increasingly popular avenue for advocates to press for policies blocked in the General Assembly.

While Kander focused on campaign finance reform, Schoeller strongly supported a government-issued photo identification requirement at the polls. Kander and other Democrats opposed such a move as an unnecessary step that could make it harder for some segments of the population to vote.

The two also sparred over legislation that Schoeller sponsored that would have eliminated most mail-in absentee ballots.

After a roller coaster evening with both candidates trading leads, Zweifel managed to outflank state Rep. Cole McNary, a Chesterfield Republican. The Florissant native racked up 50.3 percent to McNary's 45.5 percent.

Zweifel ran on his accomplishments during his first term, including adopting a conflict of interest policy for the Missouri Housing Development Board and investing in projects helping veterans and the disabled. McNary — the son of former St. Louis County executive Gene McNary — wants to expand the reach of the treasurer’s office to focus on pensions and budget-planning.

Like Koster, Zweifel could seek to succeed Nixon after the governor is termed out after 2016.

Beacon reporters Dan Fox, Robert Joiner and Nancy Fowler contributed to this report.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.