By John Celock
One of the nation’s youngest statewide officials has announced a bid to unseat a U.S. senator in Missouri.
Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander (D) announced Thursday morning that he would challenge U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R) in 2016. Kander, a 33-year-old Army veteran, painted his Senate campaign as continuation of his military service and his family’s public service committee. He highlighted his age in a video announcing his campaign.
“I believe it is time for a new generation of leaders who have come of age in a time of unprecedented challenges and threats to our country,” Kander said. “And are committed to brining people together and doing what’s right no matter what the personal cost.”
Kander was the nation’s youngest statewide elected official from January 2013 to December 2014.
Kander’s bid was endorsed Thursday by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and VoteVets.
“Jason Kander’s dedicated his life to service and he will make a great U.S. Senator who always puts Missouri first. Jason’s experience serving his country in Afghanistan and as a U.S. Army captain, and his time in the General Assembly and secretary of state’s office leaves him well equipped to fight for Missouri’s middle class against Washington D.C.’s powerful special interests,” DSCC Chairman Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said in a statement. “Missouri deserves a senator who will put politics aside, and work with both parties to do what’s best for their state, and I know that’s what Jason Kander will do in Washington. I look forward to supporting his campaign and working with him in the U.S. Senate.”
Kander used the video to highlight his military service as an Army intelligence officer in Afghanistan. The video was filmed at Kansas City International Airport, allowing Kander to stress his past service.
“Eight years ago I was here at the Kansas City Airport. I hugged my wife and parents goodbye and left on a journey that would change my life,” Kander said. “My name is Jason Kander and I was an Army intelligence officer in US Central Command’s intelligence division. They needed more soldiers in Afghanistan and I volunteered to go.”
Kander stressed a family commitment to service including his grandfather serving in World War II and his great-grandfather serving in World War I. He also noted his parents being juvenile probation officers and his father working at night as a police officer. Kander discussed his parents regularly bringing in foster children while he was growing up.
Kander also noted that he was spurred to enlist in the Army following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which occurred while he was a student at American University. Kander previously served in the Missouri House of Representatives for two terms, prior to his 2012 election as secretary of state.
Kander has made a name for himself in Missouri on the issue of ethics reform and for his political ambition. He and his wife, Diana, founded a political group in the Kansas City area prior to his 2008 run for office. He announced his 2012 secretary of state campaign just minutes after then Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D) announced her decision not to seek a third term.
Kander has made new ethics laws and campaign finance reform his top issues while in the state Legislature and as secretary of state. He has also used the secretary of state’s office to promote economic development and entrepreneurship.
Kander used the video to attack Blunt, saying the one term incumbent has voted against bipartisan ideas and to shut down the federal government. He said that he has worked with Republicans during his time in state government.
“Missouri has a senator who has been in Washington for nearly 20 years and has been running for one political office or another for 40 years,” Kander said.
The National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee used the same attack on Kander, noting that he has not completed his first term as secretary of state.
“Barely halfway through his first term as secretary of state and Democrat Jason Kander is already bored with his job,” NRSC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said in a statement. “Kander is your typical, overly ambitious, politician who refuses to tell you that he’s a Democrat who supports ObamaCare or that his legislative record as a tax-and-spend liberal aligns perfectly with President Obama and Governor Nixon’s agenda.”
The Senate race poses risks to Kander’s political career. By entering the race, Kander will not seek a second term in the secretary of state’s office, where he likely faced a competitive race from state Sen. Will Kraus (R-Lee’s Summit).
Kander is the latest in a long line of Missouri secretaries of state to seek higher office. Carnahan was Blunt’s 2010 Senate opponent. Blunt himself was Missouri’s secretary of state from 1985 to 1992, when he didn’t seek a third term to unsuccessfully seek the governorship. Blunt’s son, former Gov. Matt Blunt (R), was secretary of state for four years before being elected to the governor’s mansion in 2004.
Blunt has been a statewide and national political fixture since the 1980s. Prior to his 2010 Senate election, he served 16 years in Congress, including stints as House majority whip and minority whip. He was acting House majority leader for several months in 2005 and 2006. He currently serves as chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee and vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.
Blunt previously served 12 years as Greene County clerk prior to his election as secretary of state. He was the unsuccessful GOP nominee for lieutenant governor in 1980.
Kander is one of two young Senate candidates to emerge on the Democratic side for 2016. Last month, Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld announced plans to seek the Democratic nomination to oppose U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Sittenfeld though faces a likely primary challenge from former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who is viewed as the frontrunner for the Senate nomination.