The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

July 29, 2012

Lack of significant attention on secretary of state leaves GOP electorate undecided

JOPLIN, Mo. — While three Republicans are engaged in a tight primary for their party’s nomination for Missouri secretary of state, the top Democratic contender for the office is campaigning virtually unopposed.

State Rep. Jason Kander, D-Kansas City, entered the race within hours of incumbent Secretary of State Robin Carnahan’s announcement that she would not seek a third term. At the time, Democrats privately wondered whether they could leave the seat in the hands of a young, not quite established two-term state representative.

But by the time the filing deadline passed in March, Kander had pulled only nominal opposition. That has allowed Kander, a lawyer and former U.S. Army intelligence officer, to raise significant campaign cash and develop a campaign message targeting independent voters beyond Kansas City, an important feat for the first-time statewide candidate.

Over the course of his campaign, Kander has highlighted his time in the military and his hope that the office — that of the state’s chief election officer — can operate beyond partisan politics.

“As I travel throughout the state, I meet Missourians every day who, like me, are tired of partisan political games and the latest poll-driven wedge issues,” Kander said last month. “Missouri voters want to know if their leaders have the courage to do what’s right and stand up against powerful interests.”

Instead of focusing on partisan issues in his campaign, Kander has focused on issues that have historically pulled support from both parties. He proposed campaign ethics legislation this year that would ban lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and place strict contribution limits on candidates for state office.

Still, Kander has pulled large checks from his supporters, ending the latest financial quarter with nearly $800,000 on hand (more than his Republican rivals combined). He has received significant support from labor unions and law firms, the financial backbone of much of the Missouri Democratic Party.

While Kander is raising financial support for his bid, his three Republican rivals are seeking to raise support from their party base ahead of the Aug. 7 primary. The Republicans seeking their party’s nomination are state Sen. Scott Rupp, Missouri House Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller and state Sen. Bill Stouffer.

In terms of policy, there is very little nuance among the three candidates. All of them support the requirement of a photo ID for voters (which Kander opposes) and easing up the procedures for individuals incorporating a business or nonprofit. They are vehemently opposed to the federal health care law.

The three have instead differentiated themselves by geography and campaign momentum.

Stouffer, a farmer from Marshall, has spent much of the summer campaigning in small towns at meet-and-greet events with rural voters. He has been accompanied on the trail by his dog, Duke, who is pictured in many of Stouffer’s billboards statewide and is the focus of his new television ad.

Rupp, a St. Louis-area banker, is making a play for evangelical conservative voters by touting on his website and his latest television ad his endorsement from Missouri Right to Life, a group that opposes abortion rights. The group praised his opposition to embryonic stem cell research in its endorsement.

Schoeller, a Springfield lawmaker and perhaps the leading candidate in the primary, touts his support from 83 members of the General Assembly and from former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. He has gone to great lengths to highlight his support of a voter ID requirement. His latest ad touts his support of the policy, and many of his campaign T-shirts tout voter ID more largely than they tout Schoeller’s own name. Schoeller maintains a financial advantage over his Republican rivals, ending the last financial quarter with more than $300,000 on hand.

The three Republicans have criticized the current secretary of state on the campaign trail, but Schoeller has taken his criticism on air, essentially running an attack ad against the sitting secretary of state, despite the fact that she is not running for re-election.

In an interview last month in Joplin, Schoeller said the point of the ad is clear: When people think Carnahan, they think secretary of state.

“There are a lot of folks who identify the secretary of state’s office with Robin Carnahan,” he said. “We want them to understand that this is an important office. How she has led the office is very different than how we will run the office.”

The lack of strong policy differences among the candidates and the lack of significant attention on the race by the media have left much of the Republican primary electorate undecided. Republicans familiar with internal polling of the race said more than half of likely Republican voters have not made a decision.

Wednesday forum

The Republican candidates for secretary of state have been invited to a forum set for 6 p.m. Wednesday in Corley Auditorium at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin.

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