HANNIBAL, Mo.—Two weeks after his verbal hammering by Republicans, Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander -- now a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate – was in GOP-held territory presenting his case.
Kander’s audience included several hundred rural Democrats, but most of them in the ballroom of the Hannibal Inn acknowledged that they had become a minority in northeast Missouri.
In an interview before his speech, Kander said his pitch to rural Missourians will be the same as his appeal to urban or suburban voters as he challenges U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., arguably the most prominent Republican in the state.
“This election is going to be about whether or not Missourians are happy with the way things are going in Washington, and it’s pretty clear that they’re not. I’m not happy with the way things are going in Washington.
“It’s going to present a pretty stark choice, whether you’re talking about rural Missouri or anywhere else in Missouri, between someone who has spent their career in Washington being part of the problem and somebody who has spent their career serving in the state and serving in Afghanistan,” Kander continued.
“I think Missourians are willing to give somebody new a chance.”
Since his announcement Feb. 19, Missouri Republicans already are casting Kander as an over-ambitious, inexperienced state official dissatisfied with his current post. But Kander contended that he decided to forego a bid for re-election, and run for the U.S. Senate instead, out of frustration -- not a quest for fame.
Portrays Blunt as too much of an insider
“I was watching what was going on in Washington, and I had hoped that the people there would start listening to their constituents instead of their campaign donors,’’ Kander said. “And that’s not what happened. So I feel the need to step up and do something about it.”
To his audience, Kander recounted his background as a Missouri native who is the son of juvenile probation officers, with his father also working nights as a policeman. He was in college when he volunteered for the military and ended up as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan. Later, Kander went to law school.
Kander sought to contrast his past with Blunt's present. Since Blunt (son of a dairy farmer) arrived in Washington in 1997, Kander said, “Washington has become his home, and lobbyists and his political party have become his constituents.”
Kander also went on the attack in his speech, although he first jabbed at unnamed members of the Congress who he accused of resorting to “legalized bribery’’ just to round up enough votes to pass a budget.
“They stand up for themselves, they stand up for special interests, they stand up for millionaires and huge corporations, they stand up for everybody except the people who sent them there in the first place,” he said.
Members of Congress “aren’t bad people, it’s just that they've lost touch,’’ Kander went on. After long stints in Washington, he said, “that’s where their friends are. That’s where they send their kids to school. That’s where they build their lives.”
Kander then stuck the verbal knife a little deeper. “So you can see how easy it is for members of Congress to lose touch…. But that doesn’t make it right. We don’t send senators to Washington so that they can get rich,’’ he said. “We send senators to Washington so they can fight for middle-class Missourians so they can provide for their families and put food on the table.”
As for Blunt, Kander told the crowd that the senator has been in Washington so long that he’s part of that uncaring crowd. “That doesn’t make him a bad person,” the challenger added, “but that doesn’t make him a good senator, either.”
Kander expects to carry that message through the state in the coming months, as he makes the round of regional Democratic weekend events which began with Hannibal's Democrat Days.
His next stop will be in a few weeks in Blunt's political backyard of Springfield, Mo., for southwest Democrats' annual Jackson Days.