The next election for the 8th Congressional District, which covers 30 counties in Southeast and Southern Missouri, is in November 2014. A declaration of candidacy by Kinder would set up a Republican primary contest for the seat, since Smith will seek re-election.
A meeting at the Cape Girardeau home of former state representative Mary Kasten on Monday including Kinder, Kasten, conservative author David Limbaugh and several others marked the start of an exploratory committee and discussion of a potential campaign, according to a news release from Kinder.
Now in a third term as lieutenant governor, Kinder, 59, a Cape Girardeau native, has also served as a state senator and has been a major Republican contender for governor, although leading up to the last election he decided not to seek that office.
Kinder, along with committee members, also signaled Monday that a campaign for Congress could focus on his conservative record on issues such as taxes, abortion and guns.
"Our country is in deep trouble," Kinder said. "We're going to have to send our most proven candidates to fight in Washington."
Fellow Republican Smith also ran for Congress on a conservative platform from his time as a Missouri House member, which proved successful. Before a June special election, the 8th Congressional District seat belonged to Jo Ann Emerson, a moderate Republican who followed her late husband into office after his death in 1996. Emerson announced her intent to resign from Congress to take a job as CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association in December, which began a frenzy among Republican officeholders large and small to be awarded the nomination for a special election.
Smith, 33, of Salem, Mo., who was the Speaker Pro Tem of the Missouri House of Representatives, ultimately won the nomination from an 84-person committee with Kinder and former state legislator Jason Crowell tying for second place in the final round of voting. Smith then defeated the Democratic Party's nominee, state Rep. Steve Hodges, with 67 percent of the vote in the June 4 special election.
"I cannot imagine Peter Kinder challenging any sitting Republican," Smith said. "Peter has spoken out several times recently about the importance of party unity and the Republican Party sticking together."
Smith also pointed to the risk that Kinder's success in a bid for Congress would pose to the Republican Party's hold on statewide offices -- of which there is little, considering all other statewide offices apart from lieutenant governor and auditor are held by Democrats.
"Peter knows if he left the lieutenant governor's office, Gov. Nixon would appoint a Democrat to replace him," Smith said. "Peter has been in politics for over 20 years, he knows better than to give up his office to a Democrat. Also, I have always considered Peter a friend and I supported him in his primary last year and he has supported me in past elections. Friends just don't run against friends."
Staff writer Keith Lewis contributed to this report.