Peter Kinder peaked on February 8, 2008, when he announced that he would not run for governor.
Just two weeks earlier, Republican Gov. Matt Blunt had announced that he would not run for re-election, and almost immediately after that, Kinder jumped into the race. But the campaign was not to be. Instead, on a stage at Lincoln Days, an annual gathering for state Republicans in Springfield, Missouri, Kinder found himself sounding a very public retreat.
"Since my earliest days of involvement, the reason for being involved has been larger than any one person. It has been emphatically not about me. It's about the cause you and I share."
Kinder did not smile. Grasping at the sides of the lectern, he continued.
"I am here today to tell you that after visiting with friends and being gratified by their support all across this state — grassroots volunteers, officeholders, fundraisers, captains of industry, people in the street — and being humbled by their support, that I will nonetheless stand down from the governor's race here tonight in the interest of the larger cause that you and I share. I will run for re-election as lieutenant governor. I will run the strongest possible race I can. I will take the game to the other team, and we will win this election in November."
Applause and cheers rose from the hotel ballroom, lifting the Republicans to their feet. Kinder waved the crowd back down.
"I look forward to that kind of ovation someday when I announce for a higher office," he said.
His audience laughed. Kinder did not.
If order had any place in state politics, Kinder might have received the standing ovation he envisioned on November 20, 2011, when he was most recently slated to announce his candidacy for governor. In preparation for the kickoff, his campaign staff had booked a large room at Ray's Plaza Center in Cape Girardeau, Kinder's hometown. U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, a Republican representing Missouri's 8th District, had been tapped to introduce the lieutenant governor. Multiple aides confirm that one week before the event, plans were in place to bus supporters in and order a "Kinder for Governor" banner to hang behind the stage.
None of this came to pass. Instead, Kinder rattled Missouri politics when he announced on November 18 that he would not run for governor after all. Dave Spence, a St. Louis businessman, would have that honor, and Kinder would seek re-election.
This seemingly abrupt decision ran counter to the conventional wisdom that the 2012 gubernatorial contest would pit the Democratic incumbent, Gov. Jay Nixon, against Kinder, the default Republican frontrunner since 2008. But Kinder's decision was neither abrupt nor unexpected. In the eyes of party insiders, it was inevitable.
When last April began, the only perceived inevitability was that Kinder would be his party's candidate for governor. He had received the joint blessing of the Missouri Republican Party and the Republican Governors Association, which was already working to book big-name headliners for Kinder's future fundraising events. The state's premier GOP donors were onboard, too. According to former staffers, Kinder originally planned to announce his candidacy in the late spring.
Plans changed April 3, though, when the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a damning front-page story, "Kinder spends time in St. Louis, courtesy of taxpayers." During five years, the paper reported, Kinder had racked up more than $35,000 in hotel bills by spending some 300 nights in some of St. Louis' ritziest rooms — and charging everything to the state.
Two days after the story hit, Kinder faced Capitol reporters in the state Senate's Pershing Gallery at a last-minute press conference. Standing before a painting of Gen. John Pershing, who had ascended to the Army's highest rank, Kinder looked nervous but resolute.