COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens hopes to complete a stunning political comeback Tuesday as voters narrow the field for a key U.S. Senate seat.
Republican Sen. Roy Blunt’s announcement last year that he would not seek a third term sparked a frenzy for his job, with nearly three dozen people in the two major parties running. With control of the Senate at stake, Democrats are hoping to pick up what should be a safe seat in the red state of Missouri.
Greitens, Attorney General Eric Schmidt and U.S. Rep. Vicki Hartzler are considered the top contenders in the 21-person Republican field. Others are U.S. Rep. Billy Long and St. Louis attorney Mark McCloskey, who gained notoriety in 2020 when he and his wife pointed guns at racial injustice protesters outside their home. Some Republican leaders worry that the nomination of scandal-plagued Greitens could open the door for a Democrat to win in November.
The Democrats are led by 13-year Marine Corps veteran Lucas Kunce, who has never held office but has outperformed everyone in both parties, and Trudy Busch Valentine, a philanthropist, retired nurse and heir to Busch Family Beer.
Election officials predicted that about a third of the state’s registered voters would cast the ballot. Early morning turnout was “a little lighter than we expected” in the state’s largest jurisdiction of St. Louis County, said Eric Fay, one of the election directors there. Absentee voting was slower than expected in the Kansas City suburbs of Jackson County, county elections director Sara Zorich said.
Greitens, a former Navy SEAL and Rhodes Scholar, had been governor for a year when in January 2018 he confirmed a television report about a 2015 extramarital affair. He was later charged with felony invasion of privacy for allegedly taking a nude photo of her woman and used her as blackmail to keep her quiet. That charge was dropped months later amid allegations that the lead investigator and local prosecutor mishandled the investigation.
Greitens, 48, says he was a victim of political success.
He also faced a second charge that year accusing him of illegally using a donor list from a charity he founded to raise money for his campaign. That charge was dropped when he resigned in June 2018 after the Missouri House launched an impeachment inquiry.
This year, Greitens’ ex-wife accused him of abuse in an affidavit in a child custody case. She cited an instance where Eric Greitens allegedly slapped their then 3-year-old son in the face and pulled his hair. In another, she accused him of pushing her to the ground.
Greitens denied the allegations and accused his ex-wife of colluding with powerful Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to sabotage his campaign. Sheena Greitens said she wasn’t working with anyone.
Greitens was also criticized in June for a campaign video that showed him brandishing a shotgun and saying he was going after RINOs, or Republicans In Name Only, a term popularized by former President Donald Trump and his allies to deride moderate or establishment Republicans. . Facebook pulled the ad.
Schmitt, 47, has gained attention for lawsuits that critics say are politically motivated. He sued China over the coronavirus. school districts over mask mandates. and the city of St. Louis on its plan to offer $1 million to women who will travel out of state for abortions.
Hartzler, 61, is a former home economics teacher and state legislator who was first elected to Congress in 2010. She is a Trump supporter who voted against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election. But Trump dropped out last month saying he would not support Hartzler.
On Monday, Trump voiced his support in a social media post for “ERIC,” apparently referring to either Schmidt or Greitens, without choosing between them. There is a third Eric in the Republican primary, comedian and Navy veteran Eric McElroy.
“I trust the Great People of Missouri, on this, to make up their own minds, as they did when they gave me landslide victories in the 2016 and 2020 Elections, and therefore I am proud to announce that ERIC has their full and Complete endorsement!” Trump wrote.
Political committees supporting Greitens and Schmitt quickly made phone calls on the eve of the election vying for Trump’s support.
Kunce, 39, got his own big endorsement Monday — from Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Kunce served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Like Senate candidate John Fetterman in Pennsylvania, Coons is a populist hoping to win back rural voters. He wants to ban stock ownership for members of Congress, break up corporate monopolies, and end foreign ownership of farm land. He said the government should spend money on rebuilding the heartland and not on building foreign countries.
Valentine, 65, is the daughter of August “Gussie” Busch Jr., the longtime chairman and CEO of Anheuser-Busch who built the St. Louis-based brewer into the world’s largest brewer. The brewery was sold to InBev in 2008. Valentine said she entered the race after seeing “division in our country and vitriol in our politics.”
The winners of the Democratic and Republican primaries could face an independent candidate who already has significant financial backing. John Wood, 52, a lifelong Republican, former U.S. attorney and most recently the lead investigator for the U.S. House committee investigating the January 6, 2021 riot, has the backing of a political action committee led by former Republican Sen. John Danforth.
Salter reported from O’Fallon, Missouri. Associated Press writer David A. Lieb contributed from Jefferson City, Missouri.