A last-minute infusion of $525,000 from a Washington, D.C., Republican group did not propel a Republican voter identification advocate into the Missouri Secretary of State's Office.
Democrat Jason Kander, a state representative from Kansas City, recorded a 30,000-vote victory over state Rep. Shane Schoeller (R-Willard) in the race to replace retiring Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D). The Republican State Leadership Committee donated $525,000 to Schoeller in the closing weeks, part of a series of six-figure donations that Schoeller picked up.
The race between Kander and Schoeller focused mainly on elections, including Schoeller's push for stricter voter ID laws in the Show Me State and debate over how ballot initiative language should be written. Schoeller pushed the issue of voter ID in the state legislature and over the summer suggested that cards were needed since students needed ID to buy lunch in school anyway.
While Kander said he opposes the need for ID for voters, he said it was not the issue he heard most about statewide. He wants to give campaign finance reform center stage as secretary of state, he said.
"The true fraud in our elections is our campaign finance laws," Kander told HuffPost. "Our campaign finance laws are broken."
Kander, 31, made campaign finance and ethics reform his top issues in the state legislature, seeing a series of bills defeated in the Republican-controlled House. Kander has stressed placing campaign donation limits in the state, which does not have them, and noted that his $1.6 million war chest was made up primarily of small donations. Schoeller received several large donations, including the RSLC donation.
The ballot language issue became prevalent as Rex Sinquefield donated heavily to Schoeller's campaign. Sinquefield's donations came as the businessman and philanthropist tried to get several referendums on the statewide ballot relating to the elimination of income taxes in the state. The Missouri billboard lobby also donated free billboards to Schoeller, noting that it wanted a friendly secretary of state in office in case anti-billboard initiatives were pushed.
Kander said he plans to be nonpartisan in his writing of ballot language and stressed his nonpartisan position as part of his approach to the secretary of state's office. In addition to the division's business registration functions, Kander said he plans to create programs to connect new businesses with resources in their communities for future growth.
An Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, Kander stressed his military background throughout the race. He debuted several commercials focused on his military service and said he believes it resonated with voters.
Schoeller's campaign did not return a call for comment on the election, but in a statement posted on his website, Schoeller congratulated Kander and suggested outside forces played a role. "God has a plan and I look forward to His guidance as we move forward," Schoeller wrote.
RSLC spokesman Adam Temple said that the group knew it would be a tough race in Missouri and three other secretary of state races the group got involved with, but does not regret the funding. Of the four races the RSLC donated to the closing days of the campaign, the Republican candidate only won in Washington state. Democratic incumbents won in Montana and Oregon. Kander-Schoeller's was the most competitive secretary of state contest in the nation this year.
Former Missouri state Rep. Jason Grill (D-Parkville), who knows both Kander and Schoeller, credits Kander's work ethic for the narrow victory. "Kander is a hard worker. He went to every fish fry, picnic, barbecue and rally in the state," Grill told HuffPost. "In close elections, this makes the difference. He personally met more voters."