Missouri Senate Hopeful Jason Kander Is One of Many Down-Ballot Candidates Who Could Change Senate Balance of Power

His campaign slogan this election season is "More Jobs. Less Government."

November 2, 2016, 4:47 PM

— -- Jason Kander, the millennial Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri, has been making waves in America’s heartland.

Kander, 35, snagged national attention with his “Background Checks” ad, in which he assembles an AR-15 assault rifle blindfolded in just 30 seconds while talking about his Army service in Afghanistan and his pro-gun, pro-background checks policy. Kander is Missouri’s secretary of state and he previously served in Missouri’s general assembly, but this is his first senatorial run.

“You can turn on cable news right now and see a Democrat or Republican on TV and either one of them will say Washington is broken. And what bothers me is it seems to be the only thing they agree on,” Kander said. “And for my generation, this is the only version of American politics a lot of people in my generation has ever seen. So, folks are a lot more likely to look at this and say, ‘I guess this is what it is.'"

He added: “As somebody who was willing to potentially give my life for the idea that this is the best system in the world, it can only be better, can only be made better."

He’s running against GOP incumbent Sen. Roy Blunt, a fifth-generation Missourian who has served in Congress for the past 20 years. His campaign slogan this election season is “More Jobs. Less Government.”

PHOTO: Democratic candidate Jason Kander, left, speaks along side Republican incumbent Sen. Roy Blunt during the first general election debate in Missouri's race for U.S. Senate, Sept. 30, 2016, in Branson, Missouri.
Democratic candidate Jason Kander, left, speaks along side Republican incumbent Sen. Roy Blunt during the first general election debate in Missouri's race for U.S. Senate at the Missouri Press Association convention, Sept. 30, 2016, in Branson, Missouri.
Jeff Roberson/AP Photo

Kander has been crisscrossing Missouri and working out of his family's SUV.

“We've put I think over 100,000 miles on it ... [over] about a year,” he said. “Sen. Blunt I’ve heard has a very nice jet but this is comfy.”

In a small local library basement in St. Joseph, Missouri, which is about an hour's drive north of Kansas City, Kander spent a day sitting down with voters as they raised their concerns about education. Unlike the big flashy rallies for presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, these important Senate races are often fought, won and lost in intimate settings.

And in a state that typically goes red at the top of the ticket, this race is tight. If Kander wins, he could give Democrats one of the five crucial seats they need to take control of the Senate.

“This race is one of a few that we’re watching that could turn over power,” according to Shushannah Walshe, ABC News’ deputy political director.

Kander volunteered to serve in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, and one of the things he says he wants to change is creating better policy for our men and women in uniform.

“There's nothing that's going to be asked of me in the United States Senate that it is more difficult than like a Tuesday in the United States Army,” Kander said.

His message seems to be resonating in Missouri, but across the country, down-ballot candidates have been pulling out all the stops to get voters to the polls.

“In these tight Senate races across the country we may see more split ticket voters – that means people casting their ballots for one party at the top of the ticket and a different party down ballot,” Walshe said.

New Hampshire is another state with a very tight Senate race between Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan.

“The big question here is whether folks like Ayotte and Hassan can withstand the unpopularity of the presidential candidates at the top of the ticket. That’s what they’re trying to do,” said ABC News digital journalist Ali Rogin, who has been following the Senate race in New Hampshire for the last year.

“We spoke to a couple people who are going to vote for Clinton for president, but then they’re going to vote for Kelly Ayotte for Senate even though she’s a Republican because they say she’s done a good job for the state of New Hampshire,” Rogin added. “The big question is going to be how many of those ticket splitters end up being on Election Night.”

Hassan has been going from town to town, going into diners and restaurants to shake hands and make an impact on a personal level.

“I mean, I’m just a little person. I’m just one out of the hundreds of thousands there are in New Hampshire and for [Hassan] to come over and to say something, it makes me want to vote for her even more,” said New Hampshire voter Kim Devaux.

Ayotte has also been making one-on-one time voters a priority, a strategy that’s perhaps even more important because her relationship with the top of the Republican ticket has been complicated. She first said she believed Trump could be president, but after the 2005 "Access Hollywood" tape surfaced, Ayotte disavowed Trump.

“I cannot and will not support a candidate for president who brags about degrading and assaulting women,” Ayotte wrote on Twitter. “I will not be voting for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton and instead will be writing in Governor Pence for president on Election Day.”

Jason Kander’s campaign is also doing a delicate dance with the top of the ticket for both parties. Clinton has not been stumping for him because, even though he’s a Democrat, to win the Missouri seat, he can’t alienate all of the state’s Trump supporters. Instead top Democrats like Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have stumped for him in Missouri.

With less than a week until Election Day, from Missouri to New Hampshire, Democrats and Republicans want voters to know that regardless of who wins the top of the ticket, who controls the Senate also matters.

As Kander said to a cheering crowd, “We’ll just do what we do best -- just get to work.”

Editor’s note: The original written version of this report incorrectly included Sen. Roy Blunt’s campaign slogan “More Jobs. Less Government” in a section about Jason Kander. We regret the error.

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