Eric Schmitt won the Republican Senate nomination in MissouriNBC News projects, ending a bid to bring back the state’s disgraced former governor, Eric Greitens.
Schmitt, the state attorney general, led Rep. Vicky Hartzler, with Greitens further behind in third place, according to early results. He will face the winner of Tuesday’s Democratic primary, Trudy Busch Valentine, a nurse and heiress to the Anheuser-Busch beer fortune. NBC News projects that Valentine beat 10 other Democrats, including Lucas Kunce, a Navy veteran with national support among progressives, who won a late endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
The Democratic primary was asleep compared to the GOP contest, which has drawn extraordinary attention for a primary in a reliable red state.
A victory for Greitens would likely have made for a more competitive general election to succeed Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican who is not seeking a third term this fall. John Wood, a former House January 6 Committee investigator, launched an independent offer, partly for the sake of a Greitens nomination. A lifelong Republican, Wood was strongly backed by former Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., who funds a pro-Wood super PAC.
With 50-50 control of the Senate up for grabs, national GOP groups preferred not to spend money defending a seat in Missouri.
Greitens was hoping for a last-minute push from former President Donald Trump, who had ruled out backing Hartzler and pledged Monday to make a last-minute endorsement in the race. Trump had previously praised Greitens, and his eldest son’s partner, Kimberly Guilfoyle, chaired Greitens’ campaign. But Trump finally released a cop-out endorsement of “Eric” — i.e. Schmitt or Greitens — and said he trusted Missouri voters to “make up their minds.”
Once a rising star in national politics, Greitens resigned as governor in 2018 amid investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct and campaign finance violations. Although Greitens admitted to having an extramarital affair with a woman who accused him of taking a nude photo of her without her consent, he denied the more serious charges. A privacy invasion charge was later dropped. So did the investigation into his campaign finances.
More recent allegations by his ex-wife that Greitens abused her and their young son – allegations which Greitens has denied – have been the object of one advertising campaign by Show Me Values, an anti-Greitens super PAC that spent more than $6 million on ads in the race, according to ad tracking firm AdImpact. Show Me Values was the biggest spender in the primary, followed by a pro-Schmitt PAC. Greitens only spent $137,000 on ads, though an aligned super PAC provided over $2 million in air coverage.
A former Navy SEAL, Greitens too sparked criticism for a campaign video that featured him in tactical gear and armed with a shotgun as he went on a “RINO hunt” — a play on the acronym for “Republicans in Name Only.” Facebook removed the video for violating policies against incitement to violence. But in the final weeks, the race was essentially a three-way battle with Schmitt, Hartzler and Greitens.
Schmitt came from a field of 21 candidates that also included Rep. Billy Long and Marc McCloskeythe St. Louis attorney who received a speaking slot at the 2020 GOP convention after he was arrested for waving a gun at Black Lives Matter protesters outside his home.
The state’s attorney general since 2019, Schmitt has cast himself as a fierce opponent of President Joe Biden, citing lawsuits his office has filed against the administration.
“I wake up, I go to the office, I chase Joe Biden, I go home,” Schmitt likes to say.
Hartzler, who was endorsed by the state’s other Republican senator, Josh Hawley, has often sought to distinguish himself by dismissing his main rivals as two Erics both alike in unworthiness.
“This Eric puts guns in his commercials, and Eric Schmitt plays with a blowtorch”, Hartzler said in a recent announcement. “So I brought my chainsaw. I laugh.”
Ben Kamissar contributed.