Democratic Marine veteran jumps into Missouri Senate race after Blunt retirement

Democratic Marine veteran jumps into Missouri Senate race after Blunt retirement
© Lucas Kunce

Lucas Kunce, a Marine veteran who works at a nonprofit advocating for the reshaping of corporate monopolies, jumped into the Missouri Senate race Tuesday a day after Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThe Hill's Morning Report - Will Schumer back down on his deadline? GOP fumes over Schumer hardball strategy Cybersecurity bills gain new urgency after rash of attacks MORE (R-Mo.) announced he would not seek another term next year.

Kunce is joining what could be a crowded Democratic primary field to replace Blunt and is leaning on his biography as a native Missourian and veteran to gin up support for his nascent campaign.

In an interview with The Hill, Kunce noted his upbringing in a working-class family in Jefferson City, recalling how his parents went into bankruptcy after the birth of his sister.

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“The normal person in Missouri grew up just the way that I grew up. We struggled, we were all one disaster away from bankruptcy. So for my family that was medical bills, for someone else it would be a car wreck and for another person it might be a house fire. And I lived that struggle, I grew up in that struggle,” he said.

Kunce was able to use Pell Grants and scholarships to go to Yale University and the University of Missouri School of Law before joining the Marines, ultimately deploying to Iraq once and Afghanistan twice. He later left the military to work at the American Economic Liberties Project, a nonprofit that wants to reduce the power of corporate monopolies. 

Kunce is tapping into that biography to push what he calls a populist agenda in his campaign, telling The Hill he was disappointed in the amount of money spent overseas while communities in Missouri and across the country are struggling.

“I see us spending, it turns out to be trillions of dollars building up those other countries, basically for nothing, and me and my buddies risking our lives, to build up places like Fallujah, Habbaniyah or in Afghanistan Lashkar Gah when we should have been spending that money here in towns like Independence where I live now, in St. Louis, which has been forgotten by globalization, and then my hometown Jefferson City,” he said.

Among Kunce’s policy proposals are a “Marshall Plan for the Midwest,” which he says would invest in good-paying jobs in Missouri, particularly in the energy sector.

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“We were willing and will still be willing, it seems like, to spend trillions of dollars over there fighting over this resource for energy when we could actually build the energy of the future right here in the Heartland, in Missouri, and create the jobs of the future where we can become an exporter of energy products. That's the type of thing that I want to do. So, I want to take our money, and not put it in inflating asset bubbles but instead put it into production,” he said.

Kunce is the third Democrat to join the Missouri Senate race, following former state Sen. Scott Sifton and gay rights activist Tim Shepard. Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Quinton Lucas has also told The Kansas City Star he is considering a run for statewide office. 

Kunce said he’s “starting conversations” with national groups to garner support but has already earned the endorsement of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which has ties to Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWill Pence primary Trump — and win? Kavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law Biden signals tough stance on tech with antitrust picks MORE (D-Mass.). 

"As a Marine and a crusader against corporate monopolies, Lucas Kunce is the kind of Democrat that can win in Missouri -- and fight for Missouri families against Big Ag, Big Pharma, and other corporations controlling our farmland and economy," Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, is expected to tell the organization's membership set to launch on Wednesday.

Even with substantial backing, winning statewide in Missouri will be a heavy lift for any Democrat. The Show-Me State has shifted hard to the right in the past decade, and former President TrumpDonald TrumpRonny Jackson, former White House doctor, predicts Biden will resign McCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel MORE won the state by double digits in both 2016 and 2020.

Whichever Republican emerges as the party’s nominee will be considered the favorite in 2022, and the GOP is confident Blunt’s seat will remain in its hands. 

“The NRSC will work tirelessly to ensure Senator Blunt’s successor will uphold his legacy of free enterprise and small government and we will hold this seat. Any candidate who supports the Democrats’ socialist, big government agenda will struggle to find votes in Missouri, a state that Donald Trump won four months ago by more than 15 points,” Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), said in a statement Monday.

Still, Kunce maintains a Democrat has a shot at winning statewide in Missouri, noting that voters have backed populist ballot measures like those raising the minimum wage and legalizing medical marijuana.

While Republicans have held the advantage in the state in recent years, they will be without Trump in office or on the ticket in 2022, depriving them of a candidate who was able to juice turnout among the party faithful. The former president won Missouri by nearly 20 points in 2016, but Blunt only squeaked by to victory by 3 points.

“What happened in 2016 was Donald Trump was on the ticket, and even in 2016, the very seat that I'm running for right now, was only lost by the Democrat by 3 points against a Republican incumbent. People are willing to split their tickets,” he said. “And if Donald Trump weren't on the ticket in 2016, this seat would be held by a Democratic incumbent right now and I wouldn't even be running.”