Politico: How Jason Kander Won by Losing

MANCHESTER, N.H.—Jason Kander was wearing a mic pack here as he wandered around the Puritan Backroom, chatting with local activists and politicians at the Manchester Democratic Club chicken dinner. A videographer, who followed him around as he moved from table to table, was being paid out of his campaign account.

Kander’s Senate race ended seven months ago. He lost.

At the dinner, right in the heart of presidential hopeful pilgrimage territory, Kander delivered a version of a speech he’s been doing all over the country since November—the resistance he’s seen to Donald Trump, what Democrats need to remember about themselves, the story of the Afghan translator who surprised him by not caring that he was Jewish, and a reminder that yeah, he’s the guy from the viral ad taking apart the rifle with the blindfold on.

“If this were a season of ‘The Apprentice,’ Donald Trump would have fired Donald Trump! … Donald Trump won the election, but he did not win the argument! … If we work together, we can save the American dream from the nightmare that is Donald Trump!”

That was Friday night. Next stop was Saturday morning in Worcester, to gush about Elizabeth Warren at the Massachusetts state Democratic convention, then to Kentucky that night for the Young Democrats Convention. On Friday, he hit Salt Lake City for the Utah Democratic Party Taylor Mayne Dinner. Saturday night, it’s Ottumwa for the Iowa Democratic Party Dinner, before going to Atlanta on Monday to headline the campaign kick-off for Georgia governor hopeful Stacey Abrams. He even gave the keynote speech at the Democratic National Committee elections meeting in Atlanta in February.

The 36-year-old Kander—who came shockingly close to ousting Missouri’s Republican Sen. Roy Blunt last November despite Hillary Clinton’s blowout loss in the state—has been a man in demand the last seven months, starting with a major Iowa progressive group that reached out after the election to ask him to come to its holiday party. He drew a slightly bigger crowd than Bernie Sanders had at the same event two years earlier. He’s kept doing presidential-ish travel and generating presidential-ish buzz, though the highest office he’s ever held is secretary of state—of Missouri.

“All I can tell you is what people say when they invite us,” Kander said, sitting down for an interview for POLITICO’s Off Message podcast. “They say that they want me to come talk about the future of the party, how we were able to run 16 points ahead.”

“I wasn’t out there pretending I was a conservative Democrat,” he added. “I’m somebody who has talked a lot about and has done the act of running as who you are. You know, making a progressive argument, even in red states, and then did very well doing that.”

To hear Democrats from Barack Obama on down tell it, Kander is the future of the party: young, energetic, an insistently progressive lawyer from a red state, a devoutly anti-Trump military veteran … and, like the Democratic Party, not currently anywhere near power.