Rob Schaaf was, at times, a particularly divisive Republican in the Missouri Senate with his calls for ethics and campaign finance reforms. As he reaches his term limit, the GOP primary for his 34th District seat has been an expensive and sometimes negative campaign.
Tuesday’s primary will decide which Republican — Tony Luetkemeyer or Harry Roberts — will go up against Democrat (and former NFL player) Martin Rucker in the fall. A third GOP candidate, Scott Van Meter, dropped out after the state GOP objected; they said because Van Meter recently was a Democrat, he was not a serious candidate.
The seat covers Platte and Buchanan counties. Roberts has been presiding commissioner of Buchanan County since 2015, and has the endorsement of Schaaf and former Gov. and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Luetkemeyer previously served on the University of Missouri System’s Board of Curators and is running for elected office for the first time. While he frames himself as an outsider, Lutekemeyer is a distant cousin of U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, who represents parts of eastern and central Missouri, and is married to Lucinda Luetkemeyer, who served as counsel for former Gov. Eric Greitens.
Tony Luetkemeyer said he will bring a “fresh perspective” to the Senate, however, casting Roberts as a “typical career politician” who’s raised taxes and increased government spending.
“My opponent is an elected official right now,” Luetkemeyer said. “He has a track record of doing things in a way that I don't think makes him a true conservative.”
But Roberts said his experience shows he keeps his promises and can get things done in government. He pointed to his role in orchestrating a federal partnership to repair a damaged levee in St. Joseph, a project his campaign said temporarily increased sales taxes.
“We actually are getting that project done and it's something that was long overdue,” Roberts said.
As of Monday, which was the most recent ethics commission campaign spending report, Luetkemeyer’s campaign had spent almost $300,000, and Roberts’ about half that. Luetkemeyer also had more cash on hand with almost $80,000; Roberts had about $45,000.
Negative advertising has been a factor in the campaign. Roberts claims so-called “dark money” — untraceable money from nonprofits — is behind negative mailers and TV ads targeting him. The ads are paid for by the Missouri Senate Conservatives Fund.
Roberts claims $1 million is being spent to oppose him in the campaign, but the Missouri Ethics Commission shows that the fund has spent less than $300,000 on ads in support of Luetkemeyer and opposing Roberts.
Luetkemeyer said neither candidate can control third-party money that is spent on their behalf, and added that the Roberts campaign has received donations from outside the district. State Ethics Commission documents show both candidates have accepted outside money.
In addition, Schaaf filed an ethics complaint Monday against Darlington Road Corporation, a Nevada-based entity he claims put up three billboards targeting him soon after he endorsed Roberts. He said the billboards, one of which reads “Did you know? Rob Schaaf lived with a lobbyist,” were put up in an effort to weaken his endorsement of Roberts.
This story has been corrected due to incorrect spelling of Tony Luetkemeyer's last name.
Nicolas Telep is a KCUR news intern. Follow him on Twitter: @NDTelep