Spence had been thinking about running for a while now. As recently as late October, he told Poltico that he would almost certainly enter the fray if Lt. Governor Peter Kinder, the presumed front-runner for the nomination, decided not to run. Spence planned to delay his decision until Kinder, who has made headlines recently for his strip club visits in the '90s, made an announcement one way or the other. After all, Spence and Kinder go way back. They were Beta Theta Pi frat brothers at Mizzou and remain friends.
But with Kinder is still on the fence, Spence felt he could no longer wait, he told the Associated Press. The first-time political candidate joins even lesser-known Bill Randles, an attorney from Kansas City who most people don't even know is in the race, as the only official candidates in the Republican primary.
Assuming Kinder eventually does throw his name onto the ballot, we may be in store for a savage primary race. The top two candidates will have much ammunition with which to attack each other. What's a bigger issue than a Republican gubernatorial candidate who frequented strip clubs? How about a Republican gubernatorial candidate who supports TARP?
And Spence's campaign soft-spot goes even further than that.
In 2005, Spence was named onto the board of directors of Reliance Bank. In February 2009, after the recession hit, the federal government bailed out the bank with a $42 million loan as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Banks who received the loan are expected to pay back the tax payers with quarterly dividends.
But in February 2011, Reliance Bancshares, Reliance Bank's parent company announced that it would stop making it's $2.2 million payments, citing financial struggles (more than 100 banks nationwide have done the same thing). At the time, its most recent financial statement showed nearly $15 million in losses during the first nine months of 2010. Spence disagreed with the decision to stop payments. He resigned from the board in March.
"I resigned from the bank board over this issue," he told PoliticMo.
But it's his support for the bailout, a keystone issue among Republican voters, that could hurt his campaign for governor. According to an AP article, when asked about Reliance's move to stop the payments, Spence defended TARP:
Spence said he doesn't recall any details about that decision, but he said the federal bank bailout program helped avoid a potential economic disaster by providing banks with "extra cushion of capital."
Missouri Democrats have already called him out on this. In a press release issued on the heels of Spence's announcement, Missouri Democratic Party spokeswoman Caitlin Legacki said, "It's hard to imagine Republican primary voters supporting a guy like Dave Spence, who not only supported the bank bailouts - but even took a $40 million government bailout for his own bank..."
Then again, Mitt Romney, more or less the GOP front-runner for the presidential nomination has also defended TARP. So it may not be a deal breaker in the voting booth. Plus it's always good to see a degree of ideological heterogeneity in a primary race.
Spence made his money in the packaging business. He owns Alpha Packaging, a St. Louis-based company that manufactures plastic bottles for pharmaceutic and personal care products. The company brings in nearly $200 million in annual sales and employs around 800 people. Many expect Spence to help fund his campaign with his own money, which has drawn him comparisons to John Brunner, the St. Louis hand sanitizer mogul who is running for Senate.
A primary battle between Spence and Kinder could be fierce, considering the blemishes in their records and the high-profile nature of the race. Ever since Daily RFT broke the story about Kinder's sketchy relationship with former stripper and Penthouse centerfold Tammy Chapman, Republican shot callers have been worried about Kinder's chances against the popular Democratic incumbent Governor Jay Nixon. Spence is banking on the whispers that party leaders are searching for a Kinder-alternative.
Last week, as rumors about Spence's potential candidacy were heating up, he told the AP, "People need to know that there are alternatives to Peter Kinder. It doesn't make Peter Kinder a bad guy, but I think people need to know that there are alternatives out there."
A month ago, in an interview with Politico's David Catanese, Spence took what seemed like a veiled shot at Kinder's strip-club-related vulnerability: "I realize they will use my success against me and I'm not a perfect person, but I don't have any gaping holes and I've lived a very good Christian life."
And yet, the way Spence describes it, the race will be more friendly competition than bruising slugfest. He has declared nothing less than respect for Kinder and, in the run up to yesterday's announcement, discussed his potential candidacy as if he were concerned about stepping on Kinder's toes. On the same day as the October interview with Catanese, Spence donated $5,500 to Kinder's Political Action Committee, Friends of Peter Kinder.
Outside of his support for TARP, Spence maintains the template Republican party line: he wants to improve the economy by eliminating some-to-many government regulations that affect businesses, and he wants to make Missouri a right-to-work state, where union membership would not be a requirement for employment.