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The Chapman scandal was the beginning of the end, many Republicans now say. Some said as much publicly when the scandal was still fresh.
In August, state Rep. Kevin Elmer (R-Nixa), wrote an open letter criticizing Kinder and calling on him to drop his bid for governor. More alarming to the Kinder camp, though, was the very public, very negative reaction from one major donor, David Humphreys.
Humphreys, the president and CEO of Tamko Roofing in Joplin, had donated $125,000 to the Kinder campaign in the first six months of 2011, according to Missouri Ethics Commission campaign finance records. Now, he was telling Politico that he wanted his money back and that Kinder should resign.
"If I had known this about him," Humphreys told Politico, "I would not have supported him in the past."
A pair of high-profile fundraising events in September that were organized by the Republican Governors Association, one featuring Karl Rove and the other with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, failed to boost Kinder's coffers and, by extension, the flailing campaign. From mid-July to mid-October, Kinder raised less than $500,000 — just half of what he took in during the quarter preceding the Chapman photo. In August, Kinder received no contribution in excess of $5,000.
"The major consideration [for donors] wasn't the fact that, two decades ago, Peter Kinder as a single guy went to a strip club," Barklage says. "I think that the whole focus of donors is, here's an incumbent governor who's been very successful in elections. You're getting distracted on things like this, and we're concerned that with further distractions, you're not going to be able to take this guy on or articulate his poor record on job creation and everything else and win."
At the end of September, Kinder traveled to Joplin, where he met with Humphreys, at Tamko's headquarters, in an effort to allay the businessman's concerns. After what Barklage and others close to Kinder describe as a polite discussion, the two men agreed to move on. Humphreys told Kinder that he could keep the money after all.
But concerns about Kinder continued to fester, and Republicans had already begun to look for another candidate.
The GOP turned first to its most obvious alternative: Missouri House Speaker Steve Tilley, a Perryville Republican who, in preparation for his own lieutenant governor campaign, had already accrued a war chest worth millions of dollars. In October, Tilley met with state party leaders at his home, where they urged him to consider running for governor.
"Obviously, everyone was seeing the same numbers, the polling on the race with Kinder as a candidate and so forth," one high-ranking Missouri House Republican tells The Pitch. "I wouldn't be able to say whether there was an effort to push Peter out or to read the tea leaves and make sure that, when the inevitable happened, they weren't left with nothing."
Tilley discussed the option with close aides and confidants. On November 10, he dropped a bomb: He announced that he would halt his bid for lieutenant governor and instead focus on spending time with his two children as he and his wife divorced. That afternoon, in a private caucus meeting with House Republicans, Tilley said he had decided not to run for governor for the same reasons that he would not run for lieutenant governor.
Halfway across the state, though, another threat to Kinder's candidacy was taking shape. Dave Spence, a multimillionaire and the president and CEO of Alpha Packaging in St. Louis, had been eyeing Kinder warily since Chapman went public. He wondered whether the lieutenant governor would have the political fortitude to recover.