Eric Schmitt’s dominating win and 6 other takeaways from Missouri’s primary election
Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens was leading in most public opinion polls throughout the U.S. Senate contest. But his fortunes took a nosedive after third-party groups funded a flurry of negative advertisements highlighting abuse allegations from his ex-wife.
Missouri Republicans were worried that a crowded primary would jeopardize their chances of keeping a U.S. Senate seat in the fall.
But it didn’t take long for the state’s GOP stalwarts to breathe a sigh of relief, thanks to a dominating win from Attorney General Eric Schmitt in one of the wildest U.S. Senate primaries in recent memories.
Schmitt was widely seen as a safer choice than former Gov. Eric Greitens. While the results may suggest that the path to victory for Schmitt was easy, it most certainly wasn’t.
And while incumbents dominated congressional and state legislative contests, there were a few surprises — including some on a local level that could be consequential in the years to come.
1. A crowded primary didn’t stop a massive Schmitt victory
The size of the Republican Senate field was one of the biggest reasons national and state Republicans were worried about a Greitens victory.
There were more than 21 Republican candidates to succeed U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt. But there were six major ones: Schmitt, Greitens, U.S. Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Billy Long, attorney Mark McCloskey and Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz. Some were worried Greitens would eek out a small plurality thanks to the relatively unprecedented number of viable contenders.
That didn’t happen. Long, Schatz and McCloskey were nonfactors. And Schmitt dominated in most parts of the state, including previous Greitens strongholds like southeast Missouri. Hartzler ended up winning a number of counties on her western side of the state, but it wasn’t enough to even come close.
There are a lot of reasons for Schmitt’s success. But one could be that he had the direct and indirect fundraising for a massive television and radio campaign. And that clearly trumped what support Greitens had among Republicans who were attracted to his anti-establishment message.
2. Greitens defeated by his own strategy
Greitens was leading in most public opinion polls throughout the contest. But his fortunes took a nosedive after a flurry of advertisements from a political action committee known as Show Me Values.
These ads highlighted allegations from his ex-wife, Sheena Greitens, who accused him of abusing her and their son. While Greitens denied these claims, neither his campaign nor his associated political action committees had enough money to effectively respond, which basically meant the anti-Greitens messaging was being largely undefended.
Greitens won the GOP gubernatorial primary in 2016 with the help of millions of dollars' worth of third-party ads largely funded through mysterious sources. When asked on Monday whether his own strategy was being used effectively against him, Greitens sidestepped the question and instead accused Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of conspiring against him.
“It’s very clear, because I was the first guy in the country to say that I’m voting against Mitch McConnell,” Greitens said at a campaign stop in Chesterfield.
It was easy to dismiss that remark as standard campaign fare. But as Politico revealed on Tuesday night, McConnell’s political operation donated prodigiously to the Show Me Values PAC.
3. Trump's endorsement really didn't matter
The biggest parlor game in Missouri politics over the past year and a half was whether former President Donald Trump would endorse someone in the Senate race. After all, Trump is wildly popular among Missouri Republican primary voters, and his blessing would likely give a candidate a big advantage.
Trump did eventually decide who he was going to back on the day before the primary: ERIC. Not specifically Eric Schmitt or Eric Greitens. And probably not also-ran candidate Eric McElory. Just ERIC, which meant that Trump was punting on whether to only back Schmitt or Greitens.
It seems a bit of a stretch to argue that the ERIC endorsement made much of a difference in the outcome. Even if Trump picked between the Erics, it would have likely been way too late to stop Schmitt from winning and stall Greitens’ freefall.
Still, Trump did have some impact on the race. His decision to issue an anti-endorsement of Hartzler hurt the six-term congresswoman’s cause. And that provides a bit of a setback to U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, who went out on a political limb to back Hartzler’s candidacy.
4. Bush’s dominating performance means she’ll be hard to beat
When Cori Bush defeated incumbent Lacy Clay in the 2020 primary, she won with 48.5% of the vote, not quite 3 percentage points more than Clay. Two years later with a primary challenger, the question was whether the first-term congresswomanhad gained enough approval from constituents to hold on to her seat.
The answer was a resounding yes. Bush dominated, earning nearly 70% of the vote. Her main opponent, state Sen. Steve Roberts, only garnered around 27%.
While Roberts attacked Bush on both her voting record and what he believed was not enough legislating, voters clearly did not agree that Bush was not serving her district well.
Bush is likely to win again in November in the heavily Democratic district and secure her second term. By winning as big as she did on Tuesday, Bush solidified her position and the odds of a different Democrat beating her in future reelection races seems unlikely.
5. Leading in fundraising doesn’t guarantee a win
Lucas Kunce, a Democratic candidate for Missouri’s open U.S. Senate seat, not only outraised his fellow Democrats, but also Republican candidates.
According to the Federal Election Commission, Kunce raised more than $4 million in individual contributions, with about $2.8 million in contributions of $200 or less. Comparatively, Trudy Busch Valentine raised around $72,000 in the same category.
But despite leading in fundraising, Kunce ultimately fell to Busch Valentine, who largely self-funded her campaign.
On the Republican side, while victor Schmitt had the highest financial total of around $3.6 million, Greitens had the most in individual donations with nearly $2 million.
6. Ann Wagner’s easy victory means an uphill battle for Democrats
Trish Gunby handily won her primary to be the Democratic nominee for Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District, capturing 85% of the vote.
But now Gunby faces the tough challenge of running against incumbent Republican Ann Wagner, who also won her primary on Tuesday.
Wagner has represented the district since 2013 and last year won reelection with 52% of the vote in a district that at the time was considered attainable for Democrats.
But now, the odds are even more in Wagner’s favor. Through the congressional redistricting process, Missouri lawmakers strengthened Republican support within the 2nd Congressional District, making it less competitive.
Gunby flipped the current seat she holds in the Missouri House of Representatives, but it’s unclear if she can do the same thing on a larger scale.
7. The Conservative Caucus will likely grow in the state Senate
The Missouri Senate is expected to continue to be fractious as the Conservative Caucus is likely to pick up a few more seats.
This past session, the caucus, which usually consisted of seven of the 34 total senators, clashed with Republican leadership on several policy fronts, including redistricting and the state budget.
That friction is likely set to continue after several Republican victories on Tuesday.
Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman won the nomination for Senate District 22, which contains part of Jefferson County. The seat was held by Paul Wieland before his term ended. Wieland, though not a member of the caucus, would align with its members occasionally on votes.
In an upset, Sen. Bill White was defeated in his primary by Jill Carter. White had served as assistant majority floor leader. Carter said she was the more conservative choice.
Sen. Bob Onder, a member of the Conservative Caucus, was term-limited from running again, but his pick, Rep. Nick Schroer, won his primary. Schroer’s victory is another rebuff to Republican leadership, as his opponent John Wiemann served as speaker pro tem.
This story comes from the podcast Politically Speaking from St. Louis Public Radio.