Eric Schmidt won the Republican Senate nomination in Missouri, NBC News programs, ending a comeback attempt by the state’s disgraced former governor, Eric Greitens.
Schmitt, the state attorney general, was leading Rep. Vicky Hartzler, with Greitens trailing in third place, according to early results. He will face the winner of Tuesday’s Democratic primary between Marine veteran Lucas Kunce and Trudy Busch Valentine, a nurse and heir to the Anheuser-Busch beer fortune. This match is too soon to be made.
The GOP contest drew extraordinary attention for a primary in a reliably red state.
A Greitens victory likely would have led to 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 investigator for the House committee on Jan. 6, launched an independent bid, partly out of concern about a Greitens nomination. A longtime Republican, Wood has been heavily endorsed by former Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., who is funding a pro-Wood super PAC.
With control of the Senate 50-50, national GOP groups chose not to spend money defending a Missouri seat.
Greitens had been hoping for a last-minute push from former President Donald Trump, who had ruled out endorsing Hartzler and promised on Monday a last-minute endorsement in the race. Trump has previously praised Greitens, and his eldest son’s partner, Kimberly Guilfoyle, chaired Greitens’ campaign. But Trump ultimately issued an endorsement of “Eric” — meaning Schmidt or Greitens — and said he trusted Missouri voters to “make up their own mind.”
Once a rising star in national politics, Greitens resigned as governor in 2018 amid investigations into alleged sexual harassment and campaign finance violations. Although Greitens admitted to having an extramarital affair with a woman who accused him of photographing her nude without her consent, he denied the more serious allegations. A felony charge of invasion of privacy was later dropped. So was the investigation into his campaign finances.
His ex-wife’s most recent allegations that Greitens abused her and their young son — claims Greitens has denied — were issue of an advertising blitz 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 spent only $137,000 on ads, though an aligned super PAC provided more than $2 million in air coverage.
A former Navy SEAL, Greitens was also criticized for a campaign video that showed him in tactical gear and armed with a shotgun as he went “RINO Hunting” — a play on his “Republicans in Name Only” acronym. Facebook removed the video for violating its policies against incitement to violence. But in recent weeks, the race has essentially been a three-way battle with Schmitt, Hartzler and Greitens.
Schmitt emerged from a field of 21 candidates that also included Rep. Billy Long and Mark McCloskey, the St. Louis attorney. Louis who was given a speaking slot at the 2020 GOP convention after he was arrested for waving a rifle at Black Lives Matter protesters outside his home.
The state’s attorney general since 2019, Schmidt has cast himself as a staunch opponent of President Joe Biden, citing lawsuits his office has filed against the administration.
“I wake up, I go to the office, I sue Joe Biden, I go home,” Schmidt likes to say.
Hartzler, who was backed by the state’s other Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, often tried to set herself apart by dismissing her top opponents as two Erics and two equals in indignity.
“This Eric puts rifles in his commercials and Eric Schmidt plays with a torch.” Hartzler said in a recent ad. “So I brought my chainsaw. Just kidding.”
The 11-candidate Democratic primary drew less attention while focusing on Coons and Valentine. Kunce, who enjoyed contrasting his populist message with Valentine’s credentials, gained buzz in national progressive circles and received a last-minute endorsement Monday from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Ben Kamisar contributed.