Kansas City lawyer explores independent bid for U.S. Senate in 2018 | The Kansas City Star

A Kansas City lawyer could shake up one of the most competitive Senate races in the country as he seriously considers running as a centrist independent against U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and her eventual Republican challenger.

Craig O’Dear, a Kansas City attorney who has the backing of the national Centrist Project, has launched an exploratory campaign committee for a possible independent bid for the Senate.

The Missouri race promises to be one of the most expensive in the country and could determine which party controls the Senate.

McCaskill is viewed as one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents, and several national groups, including the Club for Growth, plan to spend significant money on behalf of Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, the GOP frontrunner.

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O’Dear, a 60-year-old Missouri native, is a partner with Bryan Cave LLP, an international law firm that has an office in Kansas City. He also is involved with the Midwest Innocence Project, a nonprofit that works to exonerate people who have been wrongfully convicted.

O’Dear, similar to other candidates backed by the Centrist Project, framed his candidacy as an alternative to partisan politics.

“Hyper-partisanship has deprived Missouri, and America, of effective leadership,” O’Dear said in a statement. “As George Washington taught us, the antidote to partisanship is independence. Our campaign would be about giving the people of Missouri an opportunity to take a stand for independence and to choose pragmatic problem solving over endless partisan warfare.”

O’Dear’s rhetoric bears striking similarity to that of Greg Orman, who mounted an unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate in Kansas in 2014 and is weighing a bid for governor this year.

O’Dear contributed $1,500 to Orman’s candidacy in 2014, according to the Federal Election Commission.

O’Dear could play a significant role in the Missouri election because early polls show McCaskill and Hawley locked in a tight race.

A January poll from Missouri Scout of 1,122 likely voters found that 49 percent support Hawley compared to 45 percent for McCaskill, with 6 percent undecided. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

“In a close race, everything matters,” said Nate Gonzales, the editor and publisher of Inside Elections, a Washington-based publication that analyzes U.S. House and Senate races.

“I think the burden of proof is on any third-party or independent candidate to demonstrate an ability to move beyond a typical protest vote,” Gonzales said. “There are third party and independents in most races, so on its face it’s nothing new, but it has the potential to be a complicating factor in an already competitive race.”

O’Dear has a history of donating to candidates of both parties, including $1,000 to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016. During the same election cycle, he contributed $1,000 to U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, and $500 to U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican.

He also donated $3,200 to Republican Eric Greitens’ successful campaign for Missouri governor in 2016 and gave $500 to Chris Koster, Greitens’ Democratic opponent, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Bryan Lowry: 816-234-4077, @BryanLowry3

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