Former Senator Jim Talent's decision not to take a shot at Sen. Kit Bond's seat in 2010 opens up establishment support for Congressman Roy Blunt in other pockets around the state and likely sets up a battle royale between Blunt and former Treasurer Sarah Steelman for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.
Talent's decision against a 2010 campaign was delivered to statewide reporters Tuesday afternoon in a statement released through the state party.
"I have decided to withdraw my name from consideration for the Senate in 2010, for several reasons," Talent said in a statement.
"First, there are other qualified Republicans who are seriously investigating the race, and it is vital to prevent the kind of dissension that hurt my Party's ticket so greatly in 2008. In addition, I have family and public obligations which this unexpected race would disrupt. Chief among the latter is my work as Vice Chairman of the Commission on WMD Proliferation and Terrorism, which is working to prevent a nuclear or biological attack on the United States," Talent went on.
A source close to Talent said the decision was made over the past few weeks, and the belief was held that Talent could win the primary.
But Talent has previously said he's enjoyed his private life and the time its granted him with his children.
"Jim simply isn't going to put the Party through another contentious primary and his desire to protect the Party is certainly part of what drove this decision by him," said a source close to Talent.
"We've seen strong, recent information that shows Jim would have been an extremely formidable candidate both in the primary and general elections. His name enjoys tremendous staying power with Missouri voters who know he has delivered on issues they care about," the source added.
Immediately the speculation among politicos turned to how this impacted the overall race. "I think he could have won the thing," said another Republican with allegiance to another candidate, reacting to the news.
The conventional wisdom is that Talent's exit from the field is a boost to Blunt. Blunt's strength will obviously be in Southwest Missouri, but Talent's strength would sit in the larger greater-St. Louis area. "You can say all you want about Southwest Missouri in a Republican primary, but St. Louis is larger than Springfield. It's got more Republicans. If it's Springfield versus St. Louis, we win," boasted a Talent ally in a background conversation shortly after Talent told KY3 News he was considering a bid.
It's unclear how Talent would have impacted a 3-way race with both Blunt and Steelman. Would Talent have split the establishment vote with Blunt and allowed Steelman to sneak through? Or, would Talent have been a happy medium for those Republicans who are tired of the Blunt brand, but believe Steelman is an opportunist? We'll never know now.
Late Tuesday, allies of both Blunt and Steelman were dissecting what this means.
One Republican political consultant suggested Talent's exit now opens the door for a second-tier candidate from the St. Louis area. If Blunt's base is southwest and Steelman's is south and central, there's certainly room for another candidate from the most populous region.
The CW is that this Republican would automatically be a major underdog, but could make a name for his or herself with a robust, albeit unsuccessful effort. "What's the risk? Everybody loses their first race. It builds name I.D.," suggested this consultant.
But the majority believe Blunt will be able to clear the field, with the exception of Steelman. While some Republicans still believe there's a chance Blunt's chess game could gently convince Steelman to run for another office (7th District, Auditor), those closest to the Steelman family think that is wishful thinking.
"Remember, they all said she'd quit when she got in against Kenny," reminded a Steelman ally.
As for Talent, insiders believe he'll look to 2012 -- and a rematch against Sen. Claire McCaskill.
"I am still very interested in serving the people of Missouri in elective office, but the considerations I have recited in this statement are more important than my personal goals," said Talent in his statement.
Translation via the Talent source: "There are many options for Jim should he decide to run for office again. I expect him to keep all of those options on the table."
For now, Talent said his next priority is electing "a strong and qualified Republican" to replace Sen. Kit Bond.
The next question is if Talent the statesman will help become Talent the kingmaker by endorsing if there's a G.O.P. primary.
Let the courting begin.