Commentary: Jason Kander's Prospects

Mar 21, 2018

Even though it’s been a year and a half, you probably still remember the best ad from the 2016 election campaign:

   

Kander might have second thoughts about producing and running that ad today, given everything that’s going on with guns.  But back in the day it had a dramatic impact on the campaign and gave him a lead in the polls.  Had Senator Blunt not hitched his wagon to the Trump campaign, today Kander might be the junior senator from Missouri, which would have made Missouri one of only two states with two Democratic senators that also voted for Trump.

Kander came close – within three percentage points in a state that Trump carried by nineteen – but it was not to be.  So what is he up to?

He is running Let America Vote, a not-for-profit that promotes voter registration and monitors what he considers Republican voter suppression such as tougher voter ID laws and vote fraud investigations.  He also hosts a political podcast called “Majority 54.”

Let America Vote has raised serious money and in 2017 organized for the Democratic candidate for governor in Virginia, which turned out to be a big win for them.  Former president Obama has called Kander one of his five rising Democratic stars.

He is spending a lot of time in New Hampshire, which holds a key early presidential primary in 2020, and where several lesser known Democrats have made their bones in the past.  He is only 36, with lots of potential appeal to GenXers and Millennials.

He has won a statewide election.  He was Secretary of State from 2013 to 2017, and managed that office capably.  Would that and his nearly-successful 2016 Senate campaign be a sufficient launch pad for national office?  Or should he try again in Missouri?

There are no congressional seats available.  With all his appeal and money he’d have a tough time against any incumbent Republican and would be seen as a carpetbagger anyway.  He could win the Kansas City congressional seat, where he’s from, but the incumbent Democrat Emmanuel Cleaver shows no signs of retiring.  He could have challenged Claire McCaskill for the Senate seat up this year but probably would have split the party and cost Democrats any chance to keep the seat.  I doubt if he wants to wait until 2022 to run against Blunt again.

Let’s see.  Is there any statewide office currently held by a beleaguered Republican who is in extremely serious trouble with his party and with many voters?  I bet you get the picture, and this picture doesn’t involve any gym equipment.

Terry Smith is a political science professor at Columbia College and a regular commentator on KBIA's Talking Politics.