Ties That Bond: Will He Stay or Go?

Posted November 7, 2008 at 6:43pm

For Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), election night undoubtedly was bittersweet. After weeks of crisscrossing the state for GOP candidates, Bond appears to have delivered Missouri for presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), as Democrats mopped up in statewide races downballot on Tuesday.

But now it’s Bond’s turn. In 2010, the 69-year-old lawmaker has to decide whether to vie for a fifth term, a potentially tough contest that even Republicans

say would test the moxie of the Midwestern political icon.

“It’s rough,” a Missouri Republican strategist said Friday. Democrats are “doing a decent job of playing on out turf. We’re losing margins all over the state.”

For now, Bond is playing coy, giving mixed messages about his 2010 intentions. In addition to vigorously campaigning for candidates this cycle, the Senator recently shed a considerable amount a weight, leading some to believe that the aging brawler is getting back into fighting shape.

“He looks good,” a state GOP operative said. “That typically means he’s running.”

Another Missouri Republican operative who spoke privately with Roll Call on Friday said most party insiders assume that — for now, at least — Bond is running, an assumption based primarily on his heavy campaigning in the 2008 presidential campaign and for downballot candidates, collecting chits for his next run.

“He’s a work horse, not a show horse,” the source said. “His name wasn’t even on the ballot, but he was making stops for people whose names were on the ticket.”

But Bond, who held a meeting Wednesday to discuss his next move, further muddied the waters in a statement Friday, declining to say definitively whether he’s running, but not exactly ruling it out. He declined an interview request for this story.

“I’m laying the groundwork, but right now I’m focused on my official role as Missouri’s senior Senator,” he said.

Bond would appear to have a ways to go on the fundraising front if he is running for another term. As of Oct. 1, he had $1.3 million in the bank, roughly $15 million less than he would likely need to fend off a credible challenger.

Bond also said that he’s readying his legendary “Bond Brigade” for a possible 2010 run, and that he is “lucky to have the best county coordinators and Republican volunteers in the nation, and thanks to their efforts, our team delivered the only win for John McCain in a battleground state.”

“I will be depending on their hard work in the years to come as we fight for the common-sense Republican principles that make Missouri a great place to work, live and raise a family,” he added.

Republicans expect that Bond will make a final decision no later than the spring, which would allow ample time for Republicans to ready a top-notch challenger to presumed Democratic frontrunner, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, who was re-elected Tuesday.

Carnahan, daughter of the late Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan (D) and ex-Sen. Jean Carnahan (D-Mo.), and sister of Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.), is expected to make a play for the seat, regardless of how Bond proceeds.

“She could run for secretary of state until the end of time, but does she really want to be secretary of state for the rest of her life? The answer undoubtedly is no,” a Missouri Democratic strategist said. “If she doesn’t run against Kit Bond in 2010, then what happens in 2012?”

“She’s cooling her heals for a very long time, if she doesn’t take him on,” the source added.

First-term Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Gov.-elect Jay Nixon (D) face re-election in 2012.

While the early Democratic field is focused on Carnahan, a Bond retirement likely would yield a crowded list of interested Missouri Republicans, including former Sen. Jim Talent and Reps. Roy Blunt, Sam Graves and Jo Ann Emerson.

Republicans privately say Blunt, who announced last week that he will not run for another term as Minority Whip, would clear the GOP field out of fear of his massive statewide grass-roots operation.

“If he’d want it, it’s his,” a state GOP source said.

But Talent, too, could be a factor. As the only mentioned Republican with firm ties to one of the state’s two main metropolitan areas, Talent could help Republicans reclaim support in the suburbs, which the party must carry to win statewide.

And should an open-seat scenario emerge, one Republican operative urged fellow GOPers to reflect on their recent drubbing in the governor’s race. Last week, Nixon soundly beat retiring Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.), who emerged from the summer primary bloody — and broke.

“As Republicans saw in 2008, primaries are difficult things to go through and then go on and win a general,” the source said.