How Is the Missouri Senate Race Shaping up -- and What Role Will a Trump Endorsement Play?

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) caught more than a few people off guard this past March when he announced he would not be seeking re-election in 2022. Blunt has served in the Senate since 2011, following a 14-year stint in the House. At 71, he’s a spring chicken relative to some of his peers, so many assumed he would seek another term. Nonetheless, Blunt opted to call it a day, citing no specific reason. Blunt’s somewhat complicated relationship with President Trump may have played a role in that — Trump remains immensely popular in the Show-Me State (he won the state by 16 points in 2020), and Blunt, though generally supportive of Trump’s presidency, also voted to accept the 2020 election results and helped lead the preparations for President Biden’s inauguration (pursuant to his role as Chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies), something which likely didn’t endear him to many of his constituents.

Blunt’s exit set off a mad scramble amongst Missouri politicos — who would be vying to take Blunt’s place and join Josh Hawley (who’ll then become the “senior” Senator from Missouri) in D.C.?  The deadline for filing is still almost six months away, but the field has already taken shape and appears close to set. One thing is clear — a Trump endorsement is highly coveted by those contending for the GOP nomination, though he’s not yet indicated whether he’ll be weighing in on the primary.

The first to declare his candidacy was former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, who made his intentions clear a mere two weeks after Blunt’s retirement announcement. Greitens rode the same red wave as Trump in 2016, claiming the governorship as his first elected office. However, Greitens resigned in May of 2018 following scandal/controversy involving an affair with his hairdresser and allegations that he photographed her in a state of undress and threatened to publish the photo(s) if she revealed the affair, as well as allegations regarding the improper use of a campaign donor list.  He was facing likely impeachment, a move supported by the majority of his fellow Republicans in Missouri. (Greitens, a Democrat until roughly a nanosecond before declaring his candidacy for governor, had not cultivated longstanding relationships nor made many friends among the Missouri GOP.) Following his announcement for the Senate, Greitens moved swiftly to align himself with Trump, securing Kimberly Guilfoyle as national chair of his campaign. However, Trump reportedly was less-than-pleased with this move. Per The Hill:

Former President Trump is irritated that his son’s girlfriend, former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, is backing former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens in the state’s Senate contest.

Politico Playbook reported on Friday that Trump has complained about Guilfoyle’s decision to join Greitens’s Senate campaign as its national chairwoman, believing that the former Missouri governor could prove damaging to Republicans’ efforts to hold retiring Sen. Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) seat next year.

My colleague, Chris Arps, also posited another reason to question whether Greitens can/will secure the Trump nod last week.

Missouri’s Attorney General, Eric Schmitt, swiftly announced his own candidacy for the Senate seat. A St. Louis native, Schmitt served as an alderman for the City of Glendale, Missouri (in suburban St. Louis County) for three years, then spent eight years in the Missouri Senate. He ran for State Treasurer in 2016, winning the seat handily (by 17 points). When then-Attorney General Josh Hawley trounced Claire McKaskill to take her Senate seat in 2018, Governor Mike Parson (formerly the Lt. Gov., Parson became Governor when Greitens resigned — someday, I really do need to create a flowchart to assist those unfamiliar with Missouri’s tangled web of politics in sorting through it all) appointed Schmitt to the AG spot. Since assuming that role, Schmitt has challenged draconian COVID regulations, regularly done battle with the Biden administration, and earned a reputation as someone who’s willing to fight for common sense, the Constitution, and conservative values. When he announced his run, Schmitt noted:

[A]s attorney general, I’ve spent my time defending President Trump and the America First agenda and all the prosperity that came with that – secure borders, energy independence, more opportunities for more Americans. And now, I’m spending my time pushing back against Joe Biden as he tries to dismantle that in, really, a betrayal of the American worker.

Then there is Mark McCloskey, the St. Louis attorney who rose to prominence in June of 2020, after he and his wife confronted a group of BLM protesters who had entered their private street and marched in front of their home, ostensibly on the way to then-Mayor Lyda Krewson’s home. (Once again: that street wasn’t “on the way” to Krewson’s home.) The McCloskeys spoke as guests at the Republican National Convention (where Donald Trump was once again the Party’s presidential nominee) in August of 2020. They were indicted by a Grand Jury in October of 2020 on felony charges including unlawful use of a weapon and evidence tampering. Ultimately, they pled guilty to a lesser charge and subsequently were pardoned by Governor Parson. McCloskey announced his run for the Senate in May of 2021.

Vicky Hartzler, Congresswoman from Missouri’s 4th District, announced her own bid for the seat in June of 2021. Unlike the first three announced candidates, Hartzler hails from the west-central portion of Missouri. Formerly a high school economics teacher, Hartzler served in the Missouri House of Representatives for six years, before succeeding Democrat Ike Skelton in the U.S. House in 2011. Hartzler clearly understands the affinity of Missourians for the former president. When she announced her run,

Hartzler made multiple references to Trump during her nearly four-minute launch video.

“President Trump backed his words with actions,” Hartzler said. “That’s what Missourians expect, and that’s been my mission every day.”

Though there was speculation that other members of Missouri’s Congressional delegation may also launch bids for Blunt’s seat, Ann Wagner (2nd District) and Blaine Luetkemeyer (3rd District) have both indicated they will not. Jason Smith (8th District) appears to still be considering a run.

Congressman Billy Long, representing Missouri’s 7th District, is the most recent name of note to throw his hat in the race. Long, who announced his candidacy in August, hails from Springfield, in southwestern, Missouri. Following a career in auctioneering and talk radio, Long won the House seat vacated by Roy Blunt when he moved on to the Senate in 2011. Since his announcement, Long has frequently shared the story of a recent exchange with Trump in New York: “Trump said to me, ‘So, you’re in (the U.S. Senate seat race)?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ and he looked at me and said, ‘Without my endorsement?’ and I said, ‘Mr. President, I’m going to win this race with or without your endorsement.’”

Long, who reportedly has hired former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway as a senior adviser and pollster, has made a point to emphasize his loyalty to Trump: “I wanted him to know that nobody has been with him longer than Billy Long — and he knows that.” Per a mid-August interview with the Missouri Times:

He pointed out that he was one of the first lawmakers out of the gate to back Trump after he descended the golden escalator and said he was running for president. Long said he also received backlash when he first decided to run for Congress and faced critics who didn’t believe he was in it for the right reasons.

While no one can fault the strategy of Long (or the other candidates) in trying to align themselves with Trump given his ongoing popularity in the Show-Me State, it’s interesting to note that, though Trump’s storied golden escalator descent was June 16, 2015, the Times article links back to Long’s tweet from May 2016.

And a perusal of Long’s Twitter timeline from June 2015 to June 2016, reveals a mixed bag of tweets pertaining to Trump (primarily sharing articles on the primary).

His actual endorsement of Trump didn’t come until July 2016.

What is clear is that all of the candidates vying to replace Roy Blunt in the US Senate recognize the value of Donald Trump’s backing in Missouri. Will he? Or won’t he?