Eric Schmitt punches ticket to U.S. Senate with victory over Trudy Busch Valentine
Republican Eric Schmitt topped Democrat Trudy Busch Valentine in a contest that lacked the suspense of previous Senate elections.
Attorney General Eric Schmitt completed his meticulous ascent within Missouri politics with a resounding victory in the state’s U.S. Senate contest on Tuesday.
“I believe in our great state,” Schmitt said after the race was called. “I’ve seen what it could offer to a kid from Bridgeton. There’s a hell of a lot of sense here in flyover country. And I can promise you one thing — we’re going to shake things up in Washington.”
The 47-year-old native of St. Louis County easily defeated Democrat Trudy Busch Valentine in a race that featured unpredictability during the primary season but not much drama in the general election thanks to Missouri’s dominant rightward trajectory. The Associated Press called the race around 9:15 p.m. with about a third of the vote counted. Schmitt closed the night with 55% of the vote.
Schmitt replicated the success of other Republicans in recent statewide elections by winning large majorities in rural counties as well as larger suburban areas outside Kansas City and St. Louis. While Busch Valentine did well in St. Louis and St. Louis and Jackson counties, she failed to gain ground in any other part of the state.
During his victory speech Tuesday night, Schmitt said the win “sent a message to Joe Biden that enough is enough — we want our country back.”
“I am humbled by your support and I am honored by your votes,” Schmitt said. “And I can promise you this: I’ll be much more than a senator from Missouri. I’ll be a senator for Missouri.”
Compared with a wild GOP primary that featured five other major candidates, Schmitt’s contest against Busch Valentine was relatively sleepy.
While Busch Valentine, a nurse and heir to the Anheuser-Busch family fortune, spent millions of her own money on ads attacking Schmitt’s record, they were ineffective at forging the urban-suburban-rural coalition she needed to prevail. Schmitt’s campaign barely did any public events after the primary, focusing instead on social media and television advertising.
Most of Schmitt’s message post-primary involved arguing that Busch Valentine would be essentially a rubber stamp for President Joe Biden’s agenda. Schmitt made his opposition to the Democratic president a key aspect of the campaign he began in 2021, as well as his emphasis on lawsuits over a federal vaccine mandate. As attorney general he also backed lawsuits challenging Biden’s election.
He also played up his roots in north St. Louis County as a contrast to Busch Valentine’s life. He noted that he used to work at Grant’s Farm and that his dad worked at Anheuser-Busch.
“And as you may have heard: I don’t come from billions — I come from Bridgeton,” Schmitt said, recounting a line he’s said several times on the campaign. “And what a truly American story this is. Only in America could the son of a night shift worker at Anheuser-Busch go on to run for the United States Senate against an heiress from one of the most iconic and wealthy families in Missouri.”
Schmitt noted that he received a concession call from Busch Valentine, and then thanked her for running “a tough and spirited campaign.”
“But now, the voters have spoken,” Schmitt said.
In her concession speech, Busch Valentine said: “Many of us are feeling scared right now. We're worried about Missouri's future and the future erosion of our rights. We feel discouraged because we worked so hard. To Eric Schmitt, this isn't the outcome I hoped for. But I respect the will of Missourians who have put their trust in you and I will be praying for wisdom and strength for you, as you represent our great state in the United States Senate."
Up the ladder
Schmitt is a De Smet High School graduate who went to Truman State University and St. Louis University Law School. He served on the Glendale Board of Aldermen before winning election to the Missouri Senate in 2008.
While serving in the Senate, Schmitt earned a reputation for handling high-profile, and often complex, legislation. That included an unsuccessful effort in 2011 to establish a China hub at St. Louis Lambert International Airport and a more fruitful bid to restrict the percentage of fines and fees cities can have in their budgets. He also played a major role in legislation that cut the state's income taxes.
Dennis Hancock served as Fenton’s mayor while Schmitt served in the state Senate. He described his former state senator as “very approachable” and “thoughtful.”
“He will consider the issues on their merits, and he'll do what he thinks is the right thing,” said Hancock, who successfully sought a St. Louis County Council seat on Tuesday. “I can't ask for much more than that.”
After mulling a run for attorney general, Schmitt instead won the state treasurer’s office in 2016. He served in that post for a relatively short time, as Gov. Mike Parson appointed him attorney general after Republican Josh Hawley won a U.S. Senate seat in 2018.
“Eric Schmitt has moved from success to success in state politics and is much to be admired for his many strengths,” said former Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican.
Schmitt won a full term as attorney general in 2020. During that year, he began to file provocative lawsuits that often received widespread attention — most notably his suit against China for its role in the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, he engendered controversy by suing school districts and local governments for implementing mask mandates.
“This is someone who has gone to the mat time after time to fight for Missourians — to fight against the big corporate interests and to fight against big tech,” said U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley at a rally in Manchester the day before the election. “I had to fight against the establishment, and I know he's gonna keep doing it.”
Democrats accused Schmitt of grandstanding to ingratiate himself with a GOP base that became more conservative and more enamored of former President Donald Trump. Former state Sen. Scott Sifton said Schmitt’s political trajectory reminded him of a quote from French revolutionary Maximilien Robespierre: “I must follow the mob, I want to be its leader.”
“And that's no way to lead,” said Sifton, who served in student government at Truman State with Schmitt.
Kinder, though, said the accusations that Schmitt espoused more conservative views to pander to his party’s base is unfair. He said Schmitt is aligning where voters are, unlike Missouri Democrats who have been unsuccessful at pivoting to the changing political sensibilities of the state.
Schmitt will succeed Roy Blunt, a Republican who was not only a major figure in Missouri politics but also received praise from both parties for bringing back money to the state.
Unlike Hawley, who has become a major critic of Biden since he became president, Blunt also supported legislation that were priorities of the Democratic chief executive. That includes an infrastructure bill and wide-ranging legislation passed in response to shootings in Texas and New York.
“Say what you will about Roy Blunt,” Sifton said. “There are times where he has clearly approached the job through the lens of the state of Missouri as opposed to some partisan agenda or some aspirational presidential bid, which you see in a lot of U.S. senators.”
Other GOP elected officials are expecting that Schmitt, even though he’s from the St. Louis area, will deal with issues that affect rural Missouri. State Rep. Louis Riggs, R-Hannibal, noted that Blunt and Kit Bond before him were passionate about solving problems that afflicted northeast Missouri, saying “coming up and listening to folks is invaluable.”
When he spoke with reporters on Monday, Schmitt said he would focus on constraining federal spending and trying to boost domestic energy production. He also said he would be critical of large technology companies, something that Hawley has done during his nearly four years in office.
And during his victory speech, he promised to push policies that crack down on crime and drug abuse.
“I believe in an America where moms and dads can raise their kids without worrying about fentanyl and crime — and where we defend the police, not defund the police,” Schmitt said. “And I believe in an America where government policies don’t get in the way of people going as far and as fast as their dreams will take them.”
“And yes, I believe in an America where we remember our greatness is not found in government, but in our people,” he added.
Schmitt’s win means Parson will appoint his successor as attorney general. Potential candidates to succeed Schmitt include Parson’s general counsel Andrew Bailey; state Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville; former U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison; Assistant U.S. Attorney Will Scharf; and former state Sen. Kurt Schaefer.
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum.