SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder dropped out of the Missouri governor's race Friday night barely two weeks after he entered it, declaring he instead will seek re-election.
Kinder announced his decision to hundreds of Republicans gathered for their annual Lincoln Days conference after first saying that he had received encouraging support from grass-roots organizers, fundraisers, the business community and others.
"I will nonetheless stand down from the governor's race here tonight in the interest of the larger cause you and I share. I will run for re-election as lieutenant governor," said Kinder, receiving a standing ovation from fellow Republicans.
Kinder was the first candidate to enter the governor's race following Republican Gov. Matt Blunt's surprise announcement Jan. 22 that he will not seek re-election this year. At the time, Kinder declared there was no chance he would change his mind.
But after Kinder entered the race, so did Treasurer Sarah Steelman and U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, suddenly creating a potential three-way Republican primary.
Some Republican Party insiders had been working to winnow down the gubernatorial field in order to avoid a potentially costly and contentious primary.
The lone Democratic gubernatorial candidate remains Attorney General Jay Nixon, who has been campaigning for the office already for several years.
Kinder's departure from the governor's race surprised some supporters who were in full force at the Republican conference, wearing green campaign T-shirts and passing out "Peter Kinder for Governor" stickers.
He built up to his announcement by first retracing, for 10 minutes, his political path from the time he stuffed envelopes for Barry Goldwater's 1964 gubernatorial campaign to the point when he led the Republican takeover of the Missouri Senate and eventually became lieutenant governor.
"The reason to mention all that is to say that since my earliest days of involvement, the reason for being involved has been larger than any one person," Kinder said. "It has been emphatically not about me. It's about the cause you and I share, and it's about preventing the fate that awaits Missouri if Jay Nixon ever becomes governor of this state."
Republican Party Chairman Doug Russell said Friday that a gubernatorial primary wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing for the party.
But "obviously, I would prefer not to have a primary," Russell said.
Hours after Blunt exited the governor's race Jan. 22, Kinder had issued a statement casting himself as "a change agent" who has worked to improve Missouri's economy, education and health care systems.
Two days later Kinder confidently asserted: "I'm in." Asked if there was any scenario in which he would not run, Kinder replied on Jan. 24: "No. Crossed the Rubicon." Kinder also reasserted that he was remaining in the governor's race after Steelman and Hulshof entered it.
Last week, Kinder circulated a letter addressed to the Republican Governors Association touting the support of numerous business leaders, among others.