With the impending retirement of Roy Blunt next year, Missouri will have an open Senate seat in the midterms and, even if the state is generally thought of as red-- Trump beat Biden 1,718,736 (56.8%) to 1,253,015 (41.4%)-- this could turn out to be one of the hottest elections of the year for several reasons. First of all, the Democrats well may nominate a candidate who can win, Lucas Kunce, instead of a Schumer-type GOP-lite loser. Kunce is a progressive populist running on kitchen table issues. He was a Marine Corp major, deployed in both Iraq and Afghanistan over his 13 year tenure and then served in the Pentagon, representing the U.S. in arms control negotiations with Russia.
When Blue America endorsed him, he told us that his number one mission "is to make sure everyday Missourians-- working people who know how to take care of each other-- call the shots in our country, not the monopolies, multinational corporations, and career politicians who’ve sold off jobs and land and stripped our communities for parts. We’re building a populist, people-powered movement to create good jobs and stronger communities. For decades, we’ve lived in a broken system that puts most families one emergency away from economic disaster... We need to fundamentally change who has power in this country. That starts with taking this Senate seat back for the working people who make this country great-- like the friends and neighbors who helped my family when we needed it most."
Kunce has reminded his supporters that "The Missouri Senate race was one of the closest U.S. Senate races of the 2016 cycle. Roy Blunt won by 2.8%, or less than 80,000 votes. The day Donald Trump was elected President in 2016, Missouri had a Democratic Senator, Governor, and a full slate of Democratic statewide row officers (Treasurer, Attorney General, Secretary of State, and Auditor). Populist ballot initiatives have also done well in Missouri. Recent wins include:
Vote To Expand Medicaid – Prop 2, Aug 2020 – 53-47%
Vote To Reject Right to Work – Prop A, Aug 2018 – 67%-33%
Vote To Allow Medical Marijuana – Prop 2, Aug 2018 – 65%-34%
Vote To Increase The Minimum Wage – Prop B, Aug 2018 – 62%-38%
Vote To Adopt Campaign Finance Reform Law, Clean Missouri – Prop 1, Aug 2018 – 62%-38%
And there's something else besides how good a candidate Kunce is. The Missouri GOP is in turmoil and headed over a cliff. With Trump hovering, the party may well nominate a lunatic fringe candidate who is loved by the party base and unacceptable to normal Missouri general election voters. Writing for the Kansas City Star this week, Jonathan Shorman and Jeanne Kuang reported that while the more garden variety Republicans in the race campaigned at a GOP convention at the Westin Crown Center last weekend, one candidate, disgraced sex predator and s&m psychopath Eric Greitens, an ex-half term governor, was nowhere to be found, having "headed to Arizona to survey a review of ballots condemned by Republican election officials but trumpeted [by Trumpists] promoting baseless claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election... As Greitens spurns a Republican establishment that has largely turned against him, the other candidates are competing to become the dominant choice of party activists, some of whom fear the former governor, beset by scandal, could put GOP control of the seat in danger." McConnell may have a coronary over this race, which could well turn into a fight to the death between Trump and himself.
It’s a competition so far centered largely on Trump and the ability to advance what Republicans call his America First agenda: a loose collection of policies and attitudes that emphasize tough restrictions at the southern border, hostility to measures targeting climate change and a fighting posture against “cancel culture.”
“I think that Greitens is trying to carve out the Trump lane and I don’t know that people are going to directly attack him so much as push him out of that lane and try to take his place,” said Jean Evans, a former Missouri GOP executive director.
The question of who is the strongest competitor against Greitens is likely to remain unsettled for some time. More candidates are expected to join ahead of the March 2022 filing deadline, with potential contenders including Reps. Jason Smith, Ann Wagner and Billy Long, who tiptoed up to the edge of announcing in an interview Saturday.
The answer holds enormous consequences for Republicans. The power of the party establishment to defeat Greitens may rest on the ability of one candidate to consolidate support.
Under one scenario, Greitens is weakened by a torrent of negative ads that focus attention on the allegations of violent sexual abuse and blackmail against him. McCloskey, best known for brandishing a firearm at Black Lives Matter protesters, further siphons away support. And a mainstream Republican, perhaps boosted by Trump’s endorsement, wins the primary.
“I think McCloskey is much more a threat to Eric Greitens than any other candidate in the race,” said James Harris, a Jefferson City-based Republican consultant.
In a worst-case scenario for Greitens’ opponents, a large primary field without a strong anti-Greitens alternative could fracture the vote and allow the former governor to win with only 20%. Missouri Republicans would be left with a nominee loathed by a significant portion of the party as control of the Senate hangs in the balance.
“I mean, we have to win Missouri. We’ve got to win this seat. This is our seat, we should have no trouble holding this seat,” Sen. Josh Hawley told a meeting of the Missouri Republican State Committee on Saturday.
Hawley didn’t specifically address Greitens or any other candidate, saying only that he planned to do his “due diligence” on the contenders before making a decision. But in March he said he stood by calling on Greitens to resign in 2018.
Hawley told the GOP meeting he spoke with Trump the day Sen. Roy Blunt announced his retirement.
“He said, ‘We’ve got to win in Missouri’ and I said, ‘Yes, sir, we do,’” Hawley said, recounting the conversation. “So he’s very keenly interested in this and I’m glad that he is.”
In a state where Trump remains extremely popular among Republicans, the Senate candidates are looking for any possible way to tie themselves to the former president. They are playing up Trump-era accomplishments, demonizing Democrats and talking the language of cultural grievance deployed by the former president.
At the same time, they are glossing over Trump’s fumbling pandemic response, his two impeachments and incendiary remarks ahead of the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol by several hundred of his supporters.
Greitens has gone to great lengths to signal he is a candidate in the Trump mold. He’s maintained a near-constant presence on right-wing, pro-Trump media, including hosting a show on the America’s Voice TV network and announcing his candidacy on Fox News.
The other candidates feel forced into extreme Trumpiness to compete with Greitens... which is playing right into Kunce's hands, who isn't talking about crackpot QAnon conspiracy theories but about making Missourans' lives better. Please consider contributing to Kunce's campaign by clicking on the 2022 Blue America Senate thermometer above.