In a span of less than two weeks, the Missouri political landscape has taken more twists and turns than a John Grisham novel. The opening chapter captured our attention with the stunning announcement by Gov. Matt Blunt that he would not seek re-election. A running theme throughout this novel will revolve around why Blunt made the surprise announcement. Why at this time? Why no prior notice apparently to anyone? Why, why, why?
But the second chapter opens with the quick announcement that Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder would step into Blunt's shoes and take on Attorney General Jay Nixon for the top post in Missouri. No surprises there. Insiders fully expected Kinder to seek the post should Blunt stumble or opt out of the race for another political post.
But then the political game got real juicy. State Treasurer Sarah Steelman - who had filed for re-election just hours prior to Blunt's announcement - recanted and put her name in the GOP primary race. And then the chapter's big ending with the announcement from popular Congressman Kenny Hulshof that he too was entering the race for the GOP nomination. As a footnote, Senate Majority leader Charlie Shields had floated his name within party circles but in short order, he quickly announced he had no interest in the race.
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side of the equation, Jay Nixon must have been beside himself with joy that the Republicans were going to battle it out while he had a clear path through the primary. But under the surface, another name began circulating about a possible battle with Nixon for the Democratic choice. Secretary of State Robin Carnahan - who privately yearns for a higher office given the apparent popularity of the Carnahan name - let it be known that she might have an interest in the race. No sooner had her name hit the fan, Carnahan announced that for now, she would stay put.
Conventional wisdom being what it is, many Republicans - but not all - believe Hulshof would be the party's most formidable candidate. I'm not sure the basis for their belief but believe me, I've spoken with dozens and most give Hulshof the edge at this early stage. To discount Kinder however is foolish. He's bright, he's connected and he's forgotten more about the political game than most of the candidate will ever even know.
There are several ways to view these latest developments. Are the Democrats wise to unite around Nixon and provided clear passage through the primary without the costs and the hurt feelings that would follow a nasty primary election? Are the Republicans wise to field three qualified candidates to give a choice in the primary and set the stage for November? Or are the Republicans once again shooting themselves in the foot by dividing the party in an August primary election only to then join hands in November?
Let's assume that whomever gains their party's nomination, the November election may well be very close. So what will provide that final spark, that final push to give one of these political leaders the edge when the final votes are counted?
I think you have to look at the very, very top of the Democratic and Republican election ballot to find the answer. The party's choice for president - in my humble opinion - will be the deciding factor that determines our next governor. This opinion is subject to debate but you can easily follow my thinking.
Let's say that Sen. Hillary Clinton gains the Democratic nod and tops the ticket come November. Her polarizing positions and brash personality - not to mention the Bill Baggage - will unite Republicans in strong numbers and offer perhaps enough votes in the GOP column to push that party's candidate into the Governor's Mansion. But at the same time, Sen. John McCain will get lukewarm support from conservatives in Missouri and many stalwart Republicans may take a hike and sit this election out. Were that the case, the Democrats would obviously have a much easier path to Jefferson City and beyond.
Will one or two of the GOP hopefuls opt for party unity and withdraw from the race? Will Carnahan change her mind and take on Nixon on the Democratic side. Or will another Democrat surface now that Carnahan has taken her name off the board?
The final chapter in this novel is far from written. Like all good novels, this one will keep your interest until the very end.