Missouri’s crowded race for U.S. Senate begins with Republicans touting Trump ties
On the Democratic side, Marine veteran Lucas Kunce, former state Sen. Scott Sifton and businessman Spencer Toder filed for the Senate seat of the retiring Roy Blunt on Tuesday.
Missouri’s crowded field of U.S. Senate candidates spent the first day of election filing not only turning in their paperwork, but also discussing why they are best suited for the job.
Republican candidates including Attorney General Eric Schmitt, former Gov. Eric Greitens, St. Louis attorney Mark McCloskey, Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, and U.S. Reps. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, and Billy Long, R-Springfield, all filed in Jefferson City on Tuesday for the Aug. 2 primary.
Many touted their relationship with former President Donald Trump or their agreement with his policies, but he hasn’t yet endorsed anyone in the race.
Greitens, who was the second U.S. Senate candidate to file on the Republican side after McCloskey, spoke about the backing he already has, including other Trump-supporting organizations.
“All of those fighters have endorsed us because they recognize that I’m the America first candidate in this race and they recognize that we need fighters who are willing to do what it takes to take our country back,” Greitens said.
Hartzler, who currently serves the 4th Congressional District, said she has spoken with Trump as recently as Monday night about the race. She said he told her that she was doing very well.
“He said he’s watching and he hasn’t decided yet, but he’s watching very closely and was, like I said, very complimentary of my campaign and the work that I’ve done,” Hartzler said.
One major endorsement Hartzler does have is from Missouri U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, who announced his support of her two weeks ago. When asked about the other candidates, Hartzler said if she doesn’t win the primary she would back the Republican nominee, unless it’s Greitens, who resigned as governor amid allegations of sexual misconduct and campaign finance fraud.
“I won’t vote for him,” Hartzler said.
Also asked about Greitens on Tuesday, Long said it’s ultimately up to the public to decide on Greitens and the other candidates.
“I want the citizens of Missouri to pick out of these six candidates,” Long said.
Schmitt, who is the only candidate to currently hold a statewide office, said he wasn’t bothered by the lack of endorsement from Hawley and touted his work in Missouri as opposed to being a part of the “D.C. establishment.”
“A lot of people can talk about issues, we’re actually going and fighting those fights and I’m going to continue doing that in the Senate,” Schmitt said.
McCloskey, who along with his wife pointed guns at police brutality protesters passing by his house in St. Louis, said after filing that the next step is reaching out to voters.
“We’re gonna go from county to county talking to as many human beings as we can. I’ve got this novel concept, having never been a politician, that if I’m going to represent the people of Missouri, I ought to ask them what they think,” McCloskey said.
Schatz filed later Tuesday than the other major Republican candidates and could not be immediately reached for comment because he was on the Senate floor.
On the Democratic side, Marine veteran Lucas Kunce, former state Sen. Scott Sifton and businessman Spencer Toder were among the candidates who were also in Jefferson City early Tuesday morning to file.
Kunce has been a leader in fundraising for the Senate seat, collecting more than $2.4 million as of Dec. 31.
“We’ve closed the polling gap because that’s what people in Missouri want. They want to change who has power, and they want people who actually represent them rather than these massive corporations that are tearing us up,” Kunce said.
All candidates who file on the first day draw a lottery number that determines their placement on a ballot. After that, candidates will be listed in order by the day they file.
Unknown boundaries not a major deterrent
Gridlock in the Missouri Senate on congressional redistricting means those districts have not been settled. Additionally, candidates running for state Senate will have to wait for a panel of judges to draw their districts.
Despite not knowing what their districts will look like, candidates are filing for those seats.
Missouri House Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, was second in line Tuesday and is running to replace Hartzler in the 4th Congressional District. She said while it would’ve been good to have clarification on what her finalized district would look like, she’s also a proponent of a 7-1 majority Republican map.
“Sending another conservative to Washington, D.C., is near and dear to my heart and so sometimes good results take time to get those hashed out,” Walsh said.
State Sen. Bill White, R-Joplin, who is running for reelection, said he was going to run if the map was completed or not, but doesn’t see his district becoming more competitive.
“Southwest Missouri is a very Republican area,” White said.
One person a completed map did have an impact on is former Democratic Missouri House Rep. Deb Lavender of Kirkwood, who is running to serve her fourth term in the House, but in a new district. She said knowing exactly what that district would look like played a role in her decision to file.
“It was very good timing that the maps were finished and I had a good chance to look and see that this matches up with who I am and where I want to run,” Lavender said.
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said both moving the primary date or extending the filing period are possibilities if maps aren’t finalized in time.
“If they pass a map next week, they don’t need to extend filing. If they pass a map the last day of March, well yeah, then they need to extend candidate filing. But it’ll work out,” Ashcroft said.
St. Louis and St. Charles Counties
There were no major surprises in St. Louis County, where the offices of county executive, prosecuting attorney and odd-numbered County Council districts are on the ballot.
Both Democratic County Executive Sam Page and his leading Republican challenger, state Rep. Shamed Dogan of Ballwin, submitted their paperwork on the first day.
The 2022 campaign is Page’s second in two years for county executive — he’s seeking his first full term in the office following the resignation of Steve Stenger.
“We’ve certainly had an interesting past couple of years,” he said. “But we have a lot of complex problems in St. Louis County, and I’m anxious to get to work. There’s a lot of opportunity here, and I believe the county is headed in the right direction.”
Dogan said his candidacy is about bringing change to St. Louis County.
“I’m looking forward to a discussion about issues like crime, about getting our economy back on track and supporting our parents,” he said.
Dogan is no stranger to filing for office, having run four times for state representative. He said the process in the county — he was one of just two candidates at the Board of Elections headquarters in St. Ann around 10:30 a.m. — is much calmer than at the state level, where sometimes hundreds of candidates line up on the first day.
Neither Page nor Dogan is expected to face a strong primary challenge.
After a heated primary in 2018, prosecuting attorney Wesley Bell is also not expected to face a serious challenge either in the primary or general election. But Bell said that will not change how he campaigns.
“We’re going to continue putting our message out there, and to be quite frank, we never stopped,” he said. “We created a community engagement unit just so that our residents would know what we were doing.”
The most competitive primary in St. Louis County is likely to be in the council's 1st District, where Jennings Councilman Terry Wilson is challenging Rita Heard Days, the current chair. Both are Democrats, and the district is heavily Democratic, making the winner of the August primary the likely winner in November.
Wilson called himself the person to move north-central St. Louis County in a new direction.
“I’ve been recruited by the community to lead because they said they wanted some new energy, a new face, some new ideas, and somebody that could work with all people,” Wilson said. “And I’ve proven that I can work with everyone.”
Days said her long career in politics made her the best choice.
“I’ve done this for a little while, and I kind of know the ropes a little bit,” she said. “But at the end of the day, it’s going to be the decision of the citizens and what they want."
Days and Page were the first two candidates in the door. Days said with the County Council scheduled to meet Tuesday evening, she wanted to take care of the paperwork early.
In St. Charles County, a potentially contentious race is shaping up in the Republican primary for county executive. Incumbent Steve Ehlmann is facing a challenge from state Sen. Bob Onder, an outspoken member of the Senate's Conservative Caucus.
Filing for the August primary closes at 5 p.m. March 29.
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