By CHRIS BLANK
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Peter Kinder was the lone Republican statewide officeholder after a Democratic electoral wave four years ago. Now he faces a combative primary for a third term as Missouri lieutenant governor.
The contest between Kinder and state Sen. Brad Lager has referenced scandal, allegations over the federal health care law and challenges to conservative bona fides. And with plentiful campaign coffers, barbs have been broadcast regularly.
Lager said in an interview that "when you have career politicians like Peter Kinder in office - I mean Peter has been at the public trough for 20 years now - they begin to view government differently." He added that Kinder has "lost his way" on spending.
Kinder said it's evident that "not only am I more conservative than he, but that I'm a conservative who delivers results, who actually puts the ball in the end zone."
The primary developed when Kinder decided last fall to forgo an expected gubernatorial campaign and instead seek re-election. By then, Lager had entered the lieutenant governor contest.
Kinder's decision came after he used personal funds to reimburse the state more than $54,000 for lodging expenses following reports by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he spent hundreds of nights at St. Louis hotels. Kinder also acknowledged frequenting an Illinois strip club in the 1990s after an article in the St. Louis alternative newspaper the Riverfront Times.
The Republican fight will be settled in an Aug. 7 primary that also features Charles Kullman, of St. Louis, and Mike Carter, who finished second in the Democratic lieutenant governor primary in 2008.
The lieutenant governor takes over if the governor dies or is removed from office. They also advocate for seniors and military veterans, serve on state housing, tourism, and other commissions and preside over the 34-member state Senate while breaking tie votes.
Lager, who lives in Savannah and is halfway through his second Senate term, lost a state treasurer race four years ago and works for health technology firm Cerner Corp., helping develop business models for health networks for providers. He also owns a car wash, a small farming operation and is involved with a housing development.
He criticizes Kinder over spending and travel expenses. A campaign ad likens part of Kinder's position on the federal health care overhaul to Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill. Lager said he wants to change state government and would push a "pro-business" agenda.
Making necessary changes so that government works with businesses and eliminates roadblocks requires a connection to the private sector that Lager says Kinder has lost while in public office. Kinder first won election to the Senate in 1992 and was elected lieutenant governor in 2004 and 2008.
"If you're going to change the direction of your state, I believe you've got to change the leaders within your state," Lager said.
Kinder has pushed back. He said he personally repaid travel costs to eliminate any doubts, and his campaign now pays even for official travel. He said his record warrants what would be a rare third term, pointing to an office that operates under-budget and has helped grow participation in a senior prescription drug benefit program after "evangelizing" on its behalf. Kinder also was the chief supporter of the Tour of Missouri bicycle race, which was stopped after three years. He dreams of restarting it.
In addition, Kinder filed a federal lawsuit challenging the health care law and is contesting the ballot summary of a state initiative to restrict a component of the overhaul.
In campaign ads, Kinder charges Lager supported stimulus money in Missouri's budget and has profited from the health care law through work at Cerner. He also claims endorsements from conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh.
"I'm fighting for my political life but no more than I was in '04 or '08," Kinder said. "And I'll be comfortable with whatever decision the voters come up with."
In contrast, eight Democrats are campaigning with little publicity in a comparatively passive primary.
The best-known candidate is Susan Montee, an accountant and lawyer, who lost re-election as state auditor in 2010. Montee also has been the chairwoman of the Democratic Party and said when she entered the lieutenant governor's race that after trying to recruit strong Democratic candidates for the contest, she believed she was best positioned to win.
In an interview, Montee said her professional experience aligns with issues the lieutenant governor faces and that her previous experience in office gives her the perspective to be effective.
Judy Baker, of Columbia, wants to raise Missourians' personal income, improve worker rights and bolster the middle class by 2025. She previously served in the Missouri House and lost a 2008 congressional race. She also was regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Senior Services.
State Rep. Sara Lampe, a former educator from Springfield, said the lieutenant governor is an advocate for important issues. As a lawmaker, Lampe said she has pushed for education, working families and women's rights in the Republican-led Legislature - responsibilities which she says aligns with the office she seeks.
Other Democrats in the race are Becky Plattner, who serves on the Conservation Commission and finished third in the 2008 primary, former Reps. Fred Kratky, of St. Louis, and Jackie Townes McGee, of Hayti; St. Louis school board member Bill Haas; and Dennis Weisenburger, of St. Joseph.
The crowded field has made it a challenge to fundraise and attract attention, but it could offer at least one benefit.
"The only thing good about it is that you have to have fewer votes to win," quipped Lampe.
Glance: Mo. candidates for lieutenant governor
Missouri Republicans are competing in a primary election campaign for lieutenant governor while eight Democrats are campaigning passively by comparison ahead of the Aug. 7 vote.
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder decided last fall to drop an expected bid for governor and instead seek a third term for his current office. By then, state Sen. Brad Lager already had jumped into the race and he has not backed down. The two leading GOP candidates have traded barbs in a campaign that has referenced scandals, questioned conservative bona fides and raised allegations centered on the federal health care law.
The eight Democrats struggling for attention and funding in their campaigns include a former state auditor, current and former state lawmakers, a conservation commissioner, a former regional administrator of the U.S. Department of Health and Senior Services and a local school board member. The best-known candidate is Susan Montee, who in 2010 lost a re-election bid as state auditor.
Voting starts at 6 a.m. and ends at 7 p.m. on Aug. 7. Voters choose a party ballot or may select an "issues only" ballot which would not include any candidates.
Here are campaign websites for Republican and Democratic candidates.
Peter Kinder: http://peterkinder.com
Brad Lager: http://bradlager.com
Mike Carter: http://mikecarter.com
Charles Kullmann: Not available
Judy Baker: http://judybakerformissouri.com
Bill Haas: http://www.votebillhaas.com
Fred Kratky: http://www.fredkratky.com
Sara Lampe: http://www.saralampe.com
Susan Montee: http://susanmontee.com
Becky Plattner: http://www.beckyplattner.com
Jackie Townes McGee: http://www.jackie2012.com
Dennis Weisenburger: Not available