Is Peter Kinder doomed?
The likely campaign of Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder (R) has been marked by gaffes — even before a photograph of him with a former stripper at a bar that has “pantless parties” surfaced in a local alt-weekly. Now the Republican who hopes to take on Gov. Jay Nixon (D) next year has been forced to deny that he harassed the woman in a strip club 17 years ago.
Kinder, who is 57 and unmarried, says he just stopped in the bar in April to use the bathroom and have a glass of wine. Tammy Chapman recognized him and asked him to pose for a photograph. He did watch her dance at a strip club, he said, but it was decades ago and he never tried to touch her or pursue her.
Chapman says that back in the 1990s, Kinder was a frequent strip club customer who agressively courted her and touched her inappropriately during lap dances. When he came into the bar earlier this year, she said, he invited her to live in his condo.
But in rural Missouri (Nixon’s home territory) family values remain a major issue for many voters.
After days of near-silence on the woman’s accusations, Kinder awkwardly explained his “romantic attraction” to Chapman with the Dean Martin song “Let’s Be Friendly.”
Yet he has survived — for now — in part because of a strong Democratic governor and a weak field of other potential candidates. (Kinder has yet to formally announce his campaign but is expected to do so in September.)
Some Republicans are saying that Kinder will have to drop his ambitions sooner or later. A major donor withdrew his support last week; a Springfield GOP committeeman emailed local Republicans saying the party needed to find a new candidate.
But the state party is standing behind Kinder, and no primary challengers have emerged. Missouri Republicans pushed back forcefully on a Politico report that suggested GOP support for Kinder was faltering.
“He’s done a good job, he’s been a good leader. Whether he may or may not have went to a strip club 15 years doesnt weigh on my mind,” said House Speaker Steve Tilley (R), who is running for lieutenant governor in 2012. “We’ve got a lot more important problems than whether someone went to a strip club 15 years ago.”
“There’s a simple reason why the Republicans don’t have a candidate whose being taken seriously – it’s because everyone is keenly aware of Jay Nixon’s strong appeal across party lines,” said Missouri Democratic Pary spokeswoman Caitlin Legacki.
Quietly, many Republicans agree.
Nixon — in part because Republicans have a majority in the state House and a supermajority in the state Senate — has governed very much from the center. Even given President Obama’s unpopularity in the state, they think Nixon is a formidable foe. Plenty of politicians don’t like the odds enough to give up a safe job.
Moreover, Kinder has been in the lieutenant governor post for seven years, and there’s a sense that it’s his shot at the mansion. He’s a solid fundraiser, taking in $970,000 in the second quarter. (Nixon raised $1.4 million in the same time period.)
“We feel that the initial story had a lot of inconsistencies in it,” said Missouri Republican Party executive director Lloyd Smith. “We worked to try to point these out. We’ve obviously been taking calls from people who are intent on knowing that we’ll win the governor’s mansion, and I’ve been meeting with those people one on one.”
The campaign, like Smith, indicated that they weren’t surprised that some donors had questions based on what they believe is misinformation that’s been put in the public domain. If Kinder took a long time to respond, the campaign argues, it was only because Chapman’s story kept changing.
Kinder’s people point out that Chapman has refused to produce letters she claimed came from Kinder. Staff members frequently sleep in his condo, so it would make no sense for him to invite a woman to live there. In some interviews she says she took the picture on her phone and emailed it to him; in others she said he took it with his camera.
If Chapman is able to produce some evidence — or Kinder admits to any more uncouth behavior — his campaign is almost definitely over. For now, at least, he’s hanging on.