Missouri Attorney General Jason Kander (D) conceded his race for the state’s U.S. Senate to Sen. Roy Blunt (R). Kander was among the Democrats’ most hyped recruits in a cycle that they hoped they could win back the Senate.
But on an election night where Donald Trump vastly over-performed on expectations, Kander was not able to unseat Blunt, even as polling showed the race at essentially a tie in the weeks leading up the Election Day.
Congratulations to Senator Blunt on his re-election. And thank you to all of my supporters. I’m so proud of you and I will never forget you.
— Jason Kander (@JasonKander) November 9, 2016
In the relatively red state of Missouri, Blunt was not considered particularly vulnerable in a cycle that featured a number of GOP incumbents defending their seats in purple state. But Kander became a break-out recruit for Democrats, especially after a TV ad where the military veteran assembled a rifle, blindfolded. The polling narrowed to a near tie for the final weeks, and outside money poured into both sides of the race. According to the Kansas City Star, $42 million was spent by outside groups, a record for a U.S. Senate race in Missouri.
The Kander campaign had sought to use Donald Trump’s anti-establishment message — which resonated in Missouri, where Trump maintained a healthy polling lead over Hillary Clinton — against Blunt, who served seven terms in the House, where he had a leadership position, before being elected to the Senate in 2010. Democrats were quick to highlight his family’s various lobbying ties, as well as reports of his presence in D.C., even during Senate recess.
Blunt, however, mounted an aggressive campaign that included constant touring across the state. He argued that Kander was a Clinton- and Obama-aligned Democrat. Blunt was also quick to highlight the bipartisan legislation he worked on in the Senate, while vowing to fight what he described as Obama-era federal overreach.
“If anybody can work their way through congressional gridlock, it’s me,” Blunt told TPM last month. “But what voters should be and are concerned about is the continuation of the policies of the last eight years. And I think the place to make that change is clearly the White House, and then to do the kinds of things that I have been advocating, to get the regulators under control, to get spending under control.”
Missouri was viewed as safe for Trump throughout the race, but Blunt consistently ran behind Trump in polling of the state. Blunt got the help of the National Rifle Association, which spent $3 million to help him keep his seat. The Koch-brothers-aligned Americans For Prosperity spent more than $1 million to defeat Kander, while a super PAC run by allies of Mitch McConnell sunk $10 million into the campaign. Kander benefited from millions of dollars of outside spending as well, including the involvement of super PACs tied to Harry Reid.
The dynamics of the race put Blunt in a tough spot with Trump. Even as other vulnerable GOP incumbents bailed on their nominee, Blunt never backed down from his support of Trump, which many observers attributed to Trump’s popularity in the state. But Blunt’s embrace of Trump appears to have been a safe bet, as Trump himself went on to exceed expectations Tuesday night.