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"It was almost like two guys standing in the alley waiting to see who draws their gun first," one Republican staffer says of Kinder and Spence. "Peter essentially put his guns down and said, 'I'm not interested in a duel and I'm not going to do this.' "
Late on the afternoon of November 18, Kinder announced in a statement that he would instead seek re-election as lieutenant governor and endorse Spence for governor.
"I believe, after numerous conversations with Dave Spence, that he is the Republican Party's best chance of defeating Jay Nixon," Kinder's statement read.
Kinder now faces a primary against Lager, in addition to state Sen. Luann Ridgeway (R-Smithville) and lawyer Mike Carter, as he seeks to hold on to his office.
Those close to Kinder say they haven't ruled out a go at the governor's mansion in 2016 — if Kinder is elected to a third term as lieutenant governor. But they admit that it's tough to look forward when the ink on this campaign's eulogy isn't yet dry.
Reflecting on Kinder's stillborn bid for governor, one Republican close to Kinder lists the miniature disasters that, one by one, bled the campaign to death: the hotel scandal, the subsequent decrease in cash flowing into the campaign, the Chapman scandal and another hit to fundraising, the public complaints from prominent GOP members that followed.
"It was," the aide says, "death by a thousand paper cuts."
When Kinder planned to announce his candidacy for governor in 2008, he couldn't wait to schedule a proper kickoff event. Instead, he unveiled his plans in an interview with the Associated Press.
"I'm in," Kinder told the AP. He assured the reporter that he would not change his mind: "No. Crossed the Rubicon."
Instead, Sarah Steelman and Kenny Hulshof — at the time, the state treasurer and a U.S. congressman, respectively — were left to duke it out for the Republican nomination for governor. Kinder, the odd man out, was left to say at Lincoln Days that he would run again for lieutenant governor.
Unfortunately, in the two-week adrenaline rush that followed Kinder's AP blurt, his staff had ordered the requisite first batch of "Kinder for Governor" T-shirts.
Four years later, those shirts are still in boxes. Some political insiders wear the T-shirts anyway in private — perhaps as part of a morbidly funny inside joke or as an ode to what might have been. Maybe someday, they'll be worn without irony, in a Missouri where everything finally goes according to Peter Kinder's plans.