In the weeks before a popular local Democrat plans to announce her bid to take on a four-term incumbent Republican lawmaker, it’s not difficult to imagine the state GOP establishment circling the wagons — especially in a historically swing district.
But that’s apparently not happening in Missouri this election cycle when it comes to protecting often-controversial Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), who will soon know whether just-retired Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes (D) will challenge him for a fifth term next year.
Take Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.). In a meeting last month at Kansas City’s City Hall, the Show Me State’s senior Senator lavished accolades on a soon-to-be-retired mayor Barnes, a northwestern Missouri native widely rumored in recent months to covet Graves’ House seat.
“Obviously the mayor and I are of different political parties, but the people of Kansas City expect elected leaders to work together to get things done. I commend Mayor Barnes for putting partisan politics aside when it comes to issues of importance to Kansas City,” Bond told the media during the April 23 meeting in Barnes’ office. “Because of your commitment and dedication, Kansas City is a better place to live and work.”
Bond said Wednesday that it’s much too early in the cycle to draw conclusions about a race that, with Barnes’ candidacy undeclared, is still hypothetical. Still, he didn’t rule out categorically a cross-party endorsement.
“I haven’t even looked at that yet,” Bond said. “We’ll see if she runs.”
Bond, who may opt for retirement in 2010 rather than seeking a fifth term, said he is no stranger to dishing out praise to the other side. In 2004, Bond’s personal relationship with now-Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D), also a former Kansas City mayor, was a source of discomfort — but for Cleaver, who had to pledge his allegiance to Democratic leadership.
“I’ve done the same with other retiring local officials,” Bond said Wednesday. “I did the same with Rep. Emanuel Cleaver.”
“We did a lot things for Kansas City and I thought I owed her,” Bond said of Barnes.
But Bond is not the only Republican who has lavished praise on Barnes recently. And even if the Republicans don’t wind up endorsing Barnes, their public remarks will be handy for her to use on any campaign literature in her race against Graves.
Less than two weeks before Bond’s visit to City Hall, Missouri state Speaker Rod Jetton (R) also cast a twilight zone-esque light on a potential Barnes-Graves matchup, while presenting Barnes with an award on the state House floor.
“Of course, I’m a Republican and she’s a Democrat, but she’s reached across the aisle in a bipartisan manner to help us understand what Kansas City needs,” Jetton said. “I don’t think Kansas City could have had a more a more pleasant, friendly, good person. … And the expansion that’s taken place in that city, what a great thing that is for the state of Missouri.”
On Wednesday, Graves gave little credence to Bond’s much-reported kudos to Barnes and said there is no personal friction between him and the state’s senior Senator.
“Kit and I are fine,” Graves said. “We’ve been friends for a long time.”
A state Republican strategist agrees there is no apparent personal rivalry between Graves and Bond. Instead, the strategist said, the rift hints at a proxy war between the lawmakers’ staffs. When the dust settles, a Barnes endorsement by Bond — or perhaps other prominent state Republicans — is unlikely.
“It’s something internal,” the strategist said. “There’s been bad blood for a while.”