Politics doesn’t just happen once every four years, Jason Kander reminded his supporters early Wednesday.
In an impassioned concession speech, the Democratic challenger for Sen. Roy Blunt’s seat called for the Millennial generation to stay involved in politics, even when the results aren’t what they had hoped for. Millennial voters had turned out in droves to campaign for Mr. Kander, Missouri's secretary of State, making the race surprisingly tight.
Driven by the high stakes of the election, a record-setting share of Americans went to the polls on Tuesday, some sources have reported. As America looks beyond the campaign, Kander’s words may underline that this engagement with the political process can continue beyond the campaign, for voters on both sides of the aisle.
“This country is a place that you’ve got to stay invested in. You don’t get to decide that you are going to be okay with the politics, that you’re going to believe in the politics of this country [only] when it goes your way,” Kander told his supporters in an early-morning concession speech on Wednesday.
Political disengagement is a persistent concern between elections, with midterm elections consistently recording much lower voter turnout than presidential contests. More broadly speaking, many analysts – looking at low turnout and limited engagement with political parties and other institutions – have suggested that citizens are withdrawing from the political process, particularly considering the divisiveness of this campaign.
But political polarization often lends itself to more consistent engagement in politics, studies show.
The race between Senator Blunt, a one-term incumbent, and Kander, an Army veteran who had served in Afghanistan before becoming Missouri’s secretary of State in 2013, was one of the closest nationwide. It was also one of the most expensive, costing the two candidates a combined $61 million, of which $35 million came from outside groups.
Both parties considered the seat pivotal to determining control of the Senate during the next Congress. And Kander, a Washington outsider who appealed to the Millennial generation, was widely seen as a strong challenger to Blunt, whose wife and three children are political lobbyists.
Polls showed Blunt with a slight edge as the election drew closer, and the coattails of Donald Trump’s 20-point margin in Missouri may have helped the incumbent senator secure victory. Mr. Trump appears to have boosted many down-ballot Republicans in the state, who swept the positions that were up for re-election.
Despite his defeat, Kander emphasized to his supporters that "checking out" of the political process was not an option. He himself has vowed not to give in to that temptation, though it’s unclear what his next step will be. Missouri’s other Senate seat, which comes up for re-election in 2018, is held by fellow Democrat Claire McCaskill.
"This is a generation that is capable of greatness … and it has a lot of work to do," he said.