Republicans fret over Trump’s influence in Missouri Senate race
Former President Trump is keeping Missouri Republicans on the edge of their seats as he mulls who to endorse in the Show-Me State’s open Senate race.
The GOP primary field is stacked with Trump acolytes, including former Gov. Eric Greitens, state Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Billy Long. But Republicans in the state and nationally are fretting particularly over Greitens, who resigned in disgrace in 2018 over investigations into claims he sexually assaulted, took nude photos of and blackmailed his hairdresser, yet is still leading in the polls.
Republicans fear Greitens’s baggage could put a normally safe seat at risk next year if he wins the nomination. And while a Trump endorsement for another candidate could help coalesce the party around a non-Greitens alternative, the prospect the former president could back Greitens is intensifying their nail-biting.
GOP handwringing was amplified further after an interview last week, when Trump responded to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s pleas to refrain from endorsing Greitens by noting, “He’s right now leading by quite a bit.”
“If Eric Greitens is the Republican nominee, it immediately makes this race far more competitive,” said Gregg Keller, a veteran Missouri GOP strategist advising a pro-Schmitt outside group. “I think that, yes, seeing comments like this from the president really does put people on edge because Missouri Republicans realize that we’re going to win the seat so long as we don’t nominate Eric Greitens.”
Virtually every candidate in the GOP primary in the race to replace retiring Sen. Roy Blunt (R) is openly lobbying for the Trump endorsement. The strategy makes sense in Missouri, where operatives agree an endorsement from the former president would catapult a candidate out of a crowded primary field into instant front-runner status.
“Obviously a Trump endorsement either for [Greitens] or for someone else could be a game changer. But if it’s for him, then I think his support increases enough where he almost becomes a shoo-in. If [Trump] endorses somebody else, then I think a lot of folks coalesce around that candidate as the kind of natural alternative to Greitens,” said one Missouri GOP operative.
Greitens has fashioned his appeal as a culture warrior in Trump’s mold, casting himself as an outsider who was chased out of office by the establishment flank of the GOP. He left office in 2018 after the allegations against him were deemed “credible” by a Special Investigative Committee of the Missouri House of Representatives, and both chambers of the state legislature mulled calling a special session to consider impeachment.
Greitens has sought to explicitly sharpen his appeal to Trump by hiring and campaigning with several of his allies, including Kimberly Guilfoyle and Rudy Giuliani.
“If he were to endorse Eric Greitens, and I certainly hope he does not, it would probably end the race,” Missouri GOP strategist James Harris said. “It seems like he’s hired or tried to hire a lot of ankle-biters around President Trump, people that have been affiliated with him in some capacity to try to help, but I don’t know if that’ll translate into an endorsement.”
The former president is believed to be waiting to see how the primary progresses and if any candidate emerges as a front-runner on their own. Trump has taken note of Greitens’s early polling lead but has also spoken with people who have voiced concerns about his electability, according to a source familiar with his thinking.
Still, the longer the primary continues without a Trump-anointed candidate, the better it is for Greitens.
The former governor is expected to have a relatively high floor of support retained from his time in office. The longer the field remains crowded, the longer that floor could keep him as the front-runner, particularly if Trump endorses close to the August primary — if at all.
“If you’ve been through all of what Eric Greitens has been through, and a person still supports you, there’s almost literally nothing that he is going to be able to do to get them to peel off and support another candidate, so his floor is relatively high,” said the Missouri GOP operative.
“A one-on-one primary between Eric Greitens and one other person, I don’t think he can win that. But in a five-way race or a six-way race … the 30-35 percent that he is likely to get in a primary very well might be enough to make him the nominee.”
As the jostling continues, Greitens’s campaign has dismissed concerns over his electability.
“It’s abundantly clear that Governor Greitens is dominating in the polls. Governor Greitens is 30 points ahead in the GOP primary and is set to beat any Democrat by the largest margin in recent Missouri history. The RINOs and their grifter consultants, including those quoted in this story, are terrified of an America First fighter evicting them from the people’s house,” said Dylan Johnson, Greitens’s campaign manager, using an acronym for “Republicans in name only.”
The latest trend lines have Missouri Republicans on edge. Next year’s political atmosphere is anticipated to heavily favor Republicans, and operatives in the state suggest nominating Greitens would hand Democrats an unnecessary lifeline in Missouri and force the GOP to divert resources from more competitive races to shore up Blunt’s seat.
“I think that if Eric Greitens were the nominee, it would be a gift to the Democrat Party that they would need to be competitive in the environment that’s coming up,” said former state Rep. Casey Guernsey. “I think that his nomination is the only one that would give the Democrats a chance.”
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