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A Power Vacuum in Missouri

An early look at the race to fill Roy Blunt’s Senate seat.

Staff people had been saying for weeks that Roy Blunt fully intended to stand for re-election.  While they might have done so simply to minimize the telephone calls, Blunt’s March 8 video announcement that he would not seek a third term in the U.S. Senate came as a surprise to most people within the borders of the Show-Me State. It certainly adds to the concerns of Mitch McConnell and anyone else in the GOP power structure in Washington who look to put Donald Trump in the rearview mirror.

Blunt was the fifth Republican senator to announce he would not be coming back. At this writing, the jury is still out on Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — although a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll found more than half of Iowa residents hope Grassley decides not to run, and Johnson has come under new criticism for saying he never really felt threatened by the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and would have been more concerned if the pro-Trump rioters had been Black Lives Matter supporters.

All these senators, including Blunt, were named in a tweet from journalist Carl Bernstein about 21 GOP senators who privately had expressed disdain for Trump, but would not do so publicly. In January, though, all voted against Trump’s second impeachment. 

Roy Blunt was circumspect, at least enough to win Trump’s praise. “I very much appreciate and respect the career of Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri,” Trump said in a statement released March 9. “He was one of the first people who came to my defense against the Impeachment Hoax #2, and it was greatly appreciated by me.”  

But would that have been enough to protect Roy Blunt from a right-wing backlash in a state Trump had carried by 15 points?

“If you had decided to seek re-election, do you think you would have won?” KRCG 13 reporter Mark Slavit asked Blunt in a one-on-one interview following the retirement announcement.  “I think it would have been a great year for me, if I would have run again,” Blunt responded in a confident tone.  “I think Democrats are going to overreach in Washington in a way that will be very helpful to our party nationally, but will be particularly helpful in Missouri.”

That last sentence speaks to the Republican Party’s chances for continued political success, not necessarily to Roy Blunt’s.  And his pending departure creates a vacuum that almost certainly will suck in candidates across the moderate-to-conservative spectrum in a primary race that Politico described as “messy.”

As to potential successors, Blunt is careful to neither elevate nor denigrate. He did tell reporters that potential candidates should not spend any time “talking about what they will never do” if elected and should instead figure out how to compromise. “Democracy’s not for sissies,” Blunt observed, “. . . and you don’t get everything you want every time you want it.”

Within hours of his announcement, most of the big names in the Missouri GOP put out statements about their own political intentions.

“[My wife] Claudia and I intend to spend some time talking with family, friends, and supporters about how I can best contribute to the future of our great state,” Missouri Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe said in his best commit-to-nothing-but-leave-the-door-wide-open posture. Attorney General Eric Schmitt said he’d been receiving “significant encouragement from supporters across the state” and would consider a run. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft bowed out, saying, “After intense, prayerful consideration, we [Ashcroft and his wife, Katie] have decided to remain devoted to the work Missouri voters have entrusted me as secretary of state.”

Among the Washington crowd, Republican House members Ann Wagner and Jason Smith indicated they are taking serious looks. Thus far, northwest Missouri Congressman Sam Graves has been silent. 

Among the Democrats, former Senator Claire McCaskill was quick to tweet it was not going to happen.  “I will never run for office again. Nope. Not gonna happen. Never,” McCaskill asserted. Likewise, former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, who came within 78,000 votes of defeating Blunt in 2016 and who now builds homes for homeless veterans, said no. “I don’t want a new job,” Kander tweeted.  

Other Democrats have stepped up, including 46-year-old former State Senator Scott Sifton, of Affton, who already had declared when he still thought he would have to defeat Roy Blunt. State Auditor Nicole Galloway, who last year lost the race for governor to Mike Parson, endorsed Sifton. Political unknowns Lucas Kunce and Tim Shepard are in. St. Louis State Senator Brian Williams and Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas are reported to be taking a look.

So . . . what about the (GOP) elephant in the room?

All eyes will remain focused on Eric Greitens. Yes, that Eric Greitens. The former governor of Missouri all but dropped off the planet after being forced to resign in 2018 amid scandal and investigation over his personal behavior, his alleged misappropriation of a charity donor list to raise money his political campaign, and increasing interest in the dark money behind him. That would seem more than enough to end the political careers of most men.  But apparently not for this machine gun-pounding former Navy SEAL.

Greitens resurfaced last summer, distributing coronavirus personal protective equipment to first responders. He even turned up in the news for getting involved to attend to the victims in a street shooting in St. Louis. More recently, however, there have been appearances on Fox News programs and print and electronic media statements critical of Roy Blunt for not doing more to help Donald Trump, and of Governor Mike Parson for not doing more to help cops who were, in Greitens’ view, under siege during the unrest following the death of George Floyd.

Since the Blunt announcement, his enthusiasm for going after that senate seat has grown. He told the Marc Cox Morning Show on St. Louis radio station KFTK the support was pouring in and he’s “looking at it much harder now.” And while, at this writing, he has not expressed a final decision, “I’m very motivated,” Greitens said.   

So don’t be surprised if you see that machine gun again in a new campaign ad. Democracy’s not for sissies. 

Editor’s Note: After the writing of this article, Eric Greitens declared his official candidacy for U.S. Senate.

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