KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A former Missouri secretary of state who garnered national attention during an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate announced Monday that he’s running for Kansas City mayor.
“I’m running for mayor because I want to make sure no matter where you live in the city or how you grew up, you have a chance to build a successful life right here,” Jason Kander said in a statement.
It was a surprising announcement for someone often mentioned by political observers as a possible Democratic candidate for president.
“Yet the mayoral office would give Kander a new way to stay in the spotlight,” said Allan Katz, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a former U.S. ambassador.
“Our current mayor has created a larger-than-life presence,” Katz said, referring to Mayor Sly James. “I think he has, among other things, offered a primer to someone who has aspirations beyond being mayor of Kansas City.”
The danger for Kander, Katz added, would be the impact of another political loss.
Kander faces more than half a dozen declared candidates in the nonpartisan race. All of them, however, will now have to reckon with their new opponent’s name recognition and resume. One, Jolie Justus, a councilwoman who was among the contenders, announced in the lead up to Kander’s announcement that she will instead run for re-election to her council seat. She said in a statement that she wished to avoid a “long, expensive, and divisive fight” and that she and Kander “share a common vision for our city.”
Kander, 37, is a former Army intelligence officer who served in Afghanistan. He spent four years as Missouri’s secretary of state and four years as a state House representative.
That experience helped him launch a competitive bid for U.S. Senate in 2016 against incumbent Republican Roy Blunt. He lost by less than 3 percentage points, a notable finish in a year when President Donald Trump, former Gov. Eric Greitens and other Republicans carried the state by much larger margins.
The campaign gave him a national profile. Former President Barack Obama was asked on his last full day in office: “Who do you see out there in the Democratic Party today as a rising star?”
Obama replied: “My guy in Missouri. Kander.”
Kander has used that attention in several ways since the 2016 election: hosting a political podcast, founding a nonprofit to combat voter ID laws and publishing a new memoir that highlights his military service.
The nonprofit, called Let America Vote, has given him a reason to travel to states that figure prominently into presidential campaigns, such as Iowa and New Hampshire. His social media presence has allowed him to take memorable swings at conservative targets, from former Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly to Trump’s immigration policies.
Chris Nuelle, the spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party, said Kander wanted to use the office of mayor as a “stepping stone for national office.”
“Missourians rejected Jason Kander’s leftist ideals in 2016, and we certainly hope they will do so again. The people of Kansas City certainly deserve a candidate that is interested in fighting for them, not padding his resume.”
Abe Rakov, Kander’s former campaign manager who now heads up the nonprofit, told The Associated Press last week that Kander had been weighing his options. Kander has the support of other Kansas City leaders, including former Mayor Kay Barnes.
“He’s been encouraged by an outpouring of support to continue in public service,” Rakov wrote in an email.
Nelson reported from Jefferson City.
This story has been corrected to remove an erroneous statement that U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver had endorsed Kander.