Despite being the best-known candidate in the race to replace former Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder is unlikely to be selected as the Republican nominee at the district GOP's committee meeting on Saturday, according to three Republican officials in the state.
Kinder was considered an early frontrunner, despite the accusations of a former stripper that contributed to his decision not to run governor in 2012. But Republicans have voiced concerns that Kinder's nomination would free Gov. Jay Nixon to appoint a Democrat to the lieutenant governor post and, according to Republican officials, a significant number of committee members are buying that argument. The problem: Kinder is one of only two statewide elected Republicans in the state, along with Auditor Tom Schweich. For years Kinder was the only one and Republicans are loathe to return to that scenario.
Republicans in the state legislature have moved in recent weeks to pass a bill preventing Nixon from appointing a replacement, instead requiring a special election -- one they would have a good chance of winning in a state that went for Mitt Romney in 2012, giving him 54 percent of the vote. But the bill remains stalled in the Senate and Nixon would almost certainly veto it should the legislation make it to his desk. Republicans have veto-proof majorities in both legislative chambers, but it's unclear how much support the bill has and when it would need to become law to prevent Nixon from appointing a replacement.
That lack of clarity has many Republican committee members whispering that they'd rather not take the chance on Kinder. The top tier of potential nominees being discussed instead includes state House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith, former Missouri Republican Party director Lloyd Smith, state Sen. Jason Crowell and state Rep. Todd Richardson, according to the Republican officials.
Committee vice chairwoman Holly Lintner said she expects Jason Smith to come out on top in the first ballot, despite the scrutiny he's faced as the first candidate to enter the race. Lintner anticipates that Lloyd Smith will come in second, but says that eventually one of them will have to cave, as they both draw from the same groups of supporters.
Lloyd Smith could pick up some of Kinder's supporters. The two friends are both veterans of the late Rep. Bill Emerson's political campaigns. Smith also served as chief of staff to Jo Ann Emerson, so his nomination could be seen as a continuation of her legacy.
Crowell will likely find support among Ron Paul-minded committee members, according to Lintner. That group may back rancher Bob Parker initially, but Parker lacks more broad-based support and Lintner said she expects they will move to Crowell once Parker is out of contention.
Richardson is in the top-tier largely because of his age, Lintner said. At just 36, Richardson is seen as a fresh face in the party who could bring new ideas and energy to Washington. But, Lintner notes, Jason Smith is actually younger, at 32 years old, and has more experience in elected office; Smith has served in the state House since 2005, while Richardson was elected in 2011.
One name that wasn't mentioned: former Treasurer Sarah Steelman, who lost the GOP Senate primary to former Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., last year. Steelman's candidacy hasn't gotten much attention from the press since she announced -- that is until the Daily Caller reported on Thursday that her Senate campaign still owes $875,000 to vendors -- a charge Steelman admitted.
The committee meets on Saturday at 10 a.m. local time to choose a nominee. Each of the 13 candidates will be given three minutes to state their case before the first round of balloting. But Republicans caution that it's likely to be a long day. "This will go, I think 8-10 ballots at least. ... Anything can really happen at this point. ... I just think it's going to be crazy," Lintner said.
Whoever comes out of the circus is likely to be the next congressman; the district gave Romney nearly 66 percent of its presidential votes in 2012.
Kinder's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.