KANSAS CITY— Missouri Democrat Jason Kander’s job running a nonprofit for homeless veterans has made the Kansas City site a campaign stop for three presidential hopefuls, with more likely to visit.
Kander, 38, came close to unseating Republican Sen. Roy Blunt in 2016. The former Missouri secretary of state was considered a strong candidate to be mayor of Kansas City until he abruptly dropped out of the race last fall to get treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, revealing that he’d struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts since leaving Afghanistan as an Army intelligence officer 11 years earlier.
Kander began to resume his public profile in July when he announced he would lead a national expansion of Veterans Community Project.
Since then, Democratic presidential candidates South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton have visited the tiny home village, where the nonprofit provides rent-free temporary housing while helping veterans find permanent housing and jobs. Moulton dropped out of the presidential race Friday.
The Kansas City Star reports O’Rourke left no doubt what brought him to town.
“I’m here because of Jason Kander,” O’Rourke said. “He’s someone who has been inspiring for me. His lead is one that I’ve wanted to follow.”
Kander says he hasn’t made efforts to lure candidates to Kansas City, but they’ve sought him out.
“I think it’s safe to say these presidential candidates aren’t coming to Kansas City to get an early jump on the Missouri primary,” said Jack Cardetti, a longtime Missouri Democratic strategist who worked on Kander’s campaigns for secretary of state and U.S. Senate.
“They’re coming here because they like and respect the work Jason Kander is doing. Jason Kander is the type of young Democrat candidates want to associate with.”
Kander said he expects more contenders in the months ahead, but he wouldn’t say who he expects.
“The reason we have interest from folks all over the country, including those running for president, is what we are doing here is really spectacular and a model for the rest of the country,” he told The Star after O’Rourke’s tour.
Kander explored the idea of running for president himself and Iowa Democratic consultant Jeff Link said Kander has a lot of fans in that early-contest state. He said the forthright public discussion of Kander’s PTSD has enhanced his stature in Iowa, where he also ran his voting rights nonprofit, Let America Vote.
“He’s handled it with class and grace, and that’s why so many people are wanting to help him out in his new endeavor,” Link said, adding that if he were running a campaign, “I’d invite (Kander) to come campaign in Iowa, certainly some of these other Midwestern states as well.”
Kander said the veterans project, not presidential politics, is his focus.
“Everyone who sees this place, no matter who they are, a corporate partner, my aunt, it doesn’t matter,” Kander said. “Anyone who sees this place, they walk away saying I want one of these in my community.”