Missouri Anxiety

By Jim Ellis

Ex-Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R)

March 21, 2022 — In 2016, retired Navy SEAL Eric Greitens was an upset winner in the Missouri governor’s contest and was quickly looked upon as a rising national Republican political star, but the glow would soon fade. Nineteen months later Gov. Greitens would resign his office in disgrace as a pre-election extra-marital affair came to the forefront followed by associated criminal charges relating to actions toward the woman and alleged campaign finance violations.

Later, the criminal charges were dropped because the prosecuting St. Louis District Attorney’s proven corrupt actions transformed into official prosecutorial misconduct. The embarrassing details that surfaced around the Greitens affair, however, underscored with him having a pregnant wife at home, ruined his previously stellar reputation.

Despite his tarnished personal image, Greitens was not finished with electoral politics, and decided to enter the open US Senate race after Sen. Roy Blunt (R) chose not to seek re-election to a third term. Speculation had been rampant earlier in the cycle that Greitens was even considering launching a primary challenge against the veteran politician if Sen. Blunt had run again. Had such a contest come to fruition, Greitens was viewed as having little to no chance of pulling an upset victory.

When the resigned governor entered the open seat Senate campaign, many Republican leaders began expressing trepidation that if he won the nomination the door would open to the party losing the general election against the eventual Democratic nominee. With virtually any other Republican standard bearer, the Missouri race would be considered safely Republican.

The new Trafalgar Group survey (March 9-13; 1,075 likely Missouri Republican primary voters, live interview, interactive voice response, online and text) gives credence to the previous analysis. Paired individually with two Democrats, Greitens only ties former St. Louis area state Sen. Scott Sifton, 45-45 percent, and holds the smallest of leads, 46-45 percent, over Iraq/Afghan War veteran Lucas Kunce.

In contrast, US Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Harrisonville/Columbia) would defeat Sifton, 57-37 percent, and Kunce, 56-39 percent. Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R) would also easily top the two Democrats (against Sifton: 54-40 percent; opposite Kunce: 55-40 percent).

However, a previous February Trafalgar poll (Feb. 22-24; 1,026 likely Missouri Republican primary voters) posted Greitens to a 31-23-17 percent Republican primary lead over Schmitt and Rep. Hartzler, respectively.

The Trafalgar Republican Missouri Senate primary poll is the fourth released since the beginning of the year, and all find Greitens holding first place. Trafalgar, however, gives the former governor his largest advantage. Two previous Remington Research Group surveys (Feb. 16-17 and Jan. 26-27) found Greitens with smaller leads (five and three points) and not even reaching the 30 percent mark. The CMA Strategies January study projected him with a 27-15-12 percent margin over Schmitt and Hartzler.

Financial resources could be Greitens’ Achilles heel, however. The March 31 financial disclosure report, due to the Federal Election Commission by April 15, could be telling. At the end of 2021, both AG Schmitt and Rep. Hartzler had out-raised Greitens, and each had substantial cash-on-hand advantages over him.

While Greitens reported just under $1.5 million in receipts, he was down to just $290,448 in the bank with a debt of over $154,000. By contrast, Rep. Hartzler held almost $1.8 million in her account and Schmitt reported over $1.27 million cash-on-hand with a debt of just over $39,000. Hartzler was carrying a small debt of $15,009.

The Missouri primary is not until Aug. 2, so this race has a long time to gel. While Greitens has the early lead in a split field, there is no guarantee that he can hang on, and the fact that he polls in the mid 30s at best suggests he could be at his high water mark. Such is likely when considering the probability that he will continue running at a financial disadvantage in comparison to his GOP opponents.

It is also possible we could see outside entities coming into the state to pour cold water on Greitens’ effort. Therefore, should either Rep. Hartzler or MSchmitt capture clear momentum in campaign prime time before the August nomination vote, either would be positioned well enough to capture the nomination.

National Republicans would be able to rest easy with either AG Schmitt or Rep. Hartzler as the party standard bearer against what has to be considered less than optimum Democratic candidates. Should Greitens evenly split the field and win with a small plurality, the early research suggests that we could then add Missouri to the list of competitive 2022 Senate races.

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