ST. LOUIS • After months of battling one unwanted headline after another, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, long the Republican standard-bearer in Jefferson City, has decided he will not run for governor.
Instead, Kinder — who has been the party's presumptive nominee to challenge Gov. Jay Nixon for more than two years —announced Friday afternoon he will run for re-election as the state's No. 2, a move that reflects further disarray within the state Republican party.
Kinder announced his intention to run for a third term as lieutenant governor in a news release titled "Kinder Announces Bid for Re-Election."
"Serving as Lt. Governor is a great honor," Kinder said. "I have the experience; track-record and desire to continue working in that capacity every day to try achieve needed reforms."
Kinder quickly threw his support for governor behind St. Louis packaging executive Dave Spence — a political novice who has never run for public office before, but who is prepared to put his own money into the race.
The chairman of the state Republican Party, David Cole, lauded Kinder as "an outstanding public servant who has always put the hopes and dreams of Missourians ahead of his own political aspirations."
Kinder's departure caps a dizzying ten days for Republicans that has seen one candidate for governor drop-in, another enter the race, three new candidates for lieutenant governor enter the race, and the frontrunner in the lieutenant governor's race drop out.
"I've given up trying to chase it down," said State Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Saline, a candidate for Secretary of State. "It seems like it changes every day."
Meanwhile, Democrats — already bullish in Nixon's chances for a second term —where relishing the exit of his erstwhile rival.
"Jay Nixon’s prospects for re-election have never been stronger," party spokeswoman Caitlin Legacki said.
Kinder's decision may come as a surprise to many Missouri Republicans, but not necessarily a shock. Four years ago, Kinder briefly entertained a bid for governor, before stepping aside for another candidate, Kenny Hulshof.
This election cycle, Kinder had been raising money — more than $1.4 million since January — in preparation for a run for governor.
But a spate of controversies took a toll from which Kinder could never recover. In the spring, he repaid the state more than $50,000 for travel costs after the Post-Dispatch reported he billed taxpayers for hundreds of nights at the Chase Park Plaza and other St. Louis hotels.
Over the summer, he was forced to answer questions about his past visits to a strip club after a recent photo of him and a former-exotic dancer was published by the Riverfront Times.
The photo was taken at a St. Louis bar that promised "every night's a pantless party."
In an August interview, Kinder explained his "romantic attraction" to the ex-stripper with a line from a Dean Martin song; "'My what lovely scenery, cupid's own machinery,'" Kinder said.
Later that same month, he wrote a meandering 1,300-word letter, lashing out at "self-described kingmakers" and political insiders.
But it wasn't just Kinder's odd words and behavior that raised eyebrows among Democrats and Republicans alike.
In the last quarter along, Kinder's spent more than $220,000 for polling and research, plus $63,000 for opposition research, suggesting a campaign searching for its footing.
After embarking on a "listening tour" of the state, Kinder continued to put off formally launching his campaign.
Kinder actually had been poised to kick-off a campaign for governor this coming Sunday, at an event in his hometown of Cape Girardeau.
But on Tuesday, Spence — who previously indicated he would wait for Kinder to act before making his own decision —announced his intentions to run for governor anyway.
Spence's announcment was preceded by an earlier round of tumult in the Missouri Republican Party, when State House Speaker Steven Tilley abruptly dropped his bid for lieutenant governor.
A few days later, two others Republicans entered the race: Builder Chris McKee and northwest Missouri State Sen. Brad Lager.
McKee said Friday he will drop out of the race. His father, developer Paul McKee, has worked closely with Kinder in the past.
Lager, however, said he is staying in the race.
"I've always expected there would be a primary," Lager said. "Peter Kinder and I are two very different people, and the electoral process is about telling people who you are, what your vision is, and letting the people decide."
Although the primary between Kinder and Lager will be closely watched, the party's spotlight now turns to Spence, head of Alpha Packaging in Overland.
While Alpha Packaging is not a household name, the plastic container company — which produces everything from pill vials to those bear-shaped honey bottles — has almost $200 million in annual sales and employs more than 800 workers at plants in the U.S. and Europe.