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It’s Hulshof, Kinder, and Steelman on the GOP side of the governor’s race, and my guess is that Hulshof will be the one to beat.

It’s true that he’s never run for statewide office and has no statewide organization in place, as Kinder and Steelman do. He doesn’t have any name ID around the state either, for the same reason. The lack of an organization could be important, but the name ID? Tell the truth. How many of the Republican voters know who Kinder and Steelman are either? One in 10? In 25?

And Hulshof has some big advantages. First, he’ll have money, and he’s got Bond’s support. His D.C. contacts will help him haul in the cash. Kinder has his share of wealthy contacts, especially among developers and businessmen in  St. Louis and Kansas City. Steelman’s biggest cash source will be trial attorneys. We’ll get a better idea at the end of the cycle (end of March) whether their sources can match Hulshof’s.

Another Hulshof advantage–but one that Steelman can neutralize–is his reputation on the ethics issue. He has no obvious ties to the boy-gov who could conceivably end up being indicted for … one of his many shady deals … before the election. Kinder, though, tied to the current administration as he is, will be tarred with the same brush when the subject of corruption arises–not to mention the subject of Medicaid cuts.

Hulshof, on the other hand, according to everybody, is “squeaky clean.” Even the liberal-leaning Post-Dispatch editorial page gave kudos to Kenny for being tossed off the House Ethics Committee after contributing to a report that criticized the ethics of then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Actually, Hulshof’s apparent distance from Blunt is a mirage. He’s hired John Hancock, Blunt’s main man, as his consultant. But that detail will escape most voters. They’ll assume Hulshof and Blunt are barely, if at all, acquainted. While they’ll be mistaken in not associating Hulshof with Blunt, his association with Bush is undeniable:

A quick look at Hulshof’s record: Hulshof has voted with President Bush more than 92% of the time and voted with the Republican Party 95% of the time.

He’s been a proponent of the Iraq War from the get go and opposed the expansion of SCHIP. Kinder and Steelman might not point those problems out, might not see them as problems. But trust the Democrats to mention it.

Steelman is the only one of the three without damaging ties to damaged goods. And, like Hulshof, she has some credibility on the ethics issue herself, having stuck by her ethical guns by “withholding tax incentives from an ethanol plant with investors who have first-degree ties to elected officeholders.” Since the main such officeholder was Sam Graves, she was standing up to one of the big boys.

On the other hand, Steelman’s squeaky clean image gets smeared by the fact that she is employing Jeff Roe, one of the dirtiest campaigners around. And she’ll be hurtin’ for certain soon about her job performance as an investor. Steelman serves on the board of the Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System (MOSERS). The fourth quarter 2007 MOSERS investment report is due out soon and it’s not going to be pretty:

Informed observers note that risky bets on Steelman’s watch could expose state taxpayers to  hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.  Under Steelman, MOSERS has gambled heavily on real estate, timber, foreign stock markets, foreign debt, distressed debt, job-killing corporate buy-outs and go-go hedge funds.

So. Plenty of negatives to go around for all three of these contenders. And whichever one of them gets nominated, the negatives will still be there.