By Jim EllisMarch 10, 2021 — Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt (R) announced via video yesterday that he is not seeking a third term next year. He will conclude an era of elected public service that spanned 14 years in the House in addition to completing a dozen years in the Senate. Prior to his federal career, he served as Missouri’s secretary of state, was the Greene County clerk, ran for governor, and saw his son elected governor.
The Blunt exit brings the number of Republican open Senate seats to five and could soon go to seven if Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) follow suit. Sen. Grassley will turn 89 years of age before the next election, and Sen. Johnson originally made a two-term promise when he first ran in 2010. The other announced GOP retirees are Sens. Richard Burr (NC), Pat Toomey (PA), Rob Portman (OH), and Richard Shelby (AL).
Without Sen. Blunt in the 2022 race, we can expect a contested Republican primary. Potential candidates include Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, the son of former senator and US Attorney General John Ashcroft, and US Reps. Ann Wagner (R-Ballwin/St. Louis County), Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-St. Elizabeth/Jefferson City), Sam Graves (R-Tarkio/St. Joseph), Billy Long (R-Springfield), and Jason Smith (R-Salem/Southeast MO) among others.
Resigned Gov. Eric Greitens, who was forced from office due to a sex scandal, was beginning to talk about launching a primary against Sen. Blunt, so in an open-seat situation he will be another person whose name will regularly surface.
We’re seeing almost the opposite response among Democrats. The initial public comments from two of the most well-known Missouri Dems, former Sen. Claire McCaskill and 2016 nominee Jason Kander, who held Sen. Blunt to a tight 49-46 percent win in 2016, both immediately indicated that they will not run in 2022. Thus, a previously announced Senate candidate, former state Sen. Scott Sifton, apparently becomes the early leader for the party nomination.
The state’s lone Democratic statewide office holder, State Auditor Nicole Galloway, was the party’s 2020 gubernatorial nominee and lost a 57-41 percent race to Gov. Mike Parson (R) after some polling suggested the race would be close. Parson was elected lieutenant governor in 2018 and assumed the governorship when incumbent Greitens resigned. Since 2020 was Parson’s initial run for governor, his equaling President Trump’s performance in the state was a show of political strength. Galloway will be on the ballot for re-election in ’22, so if she wants to take a run at the Senate, she must risk her current position.
Even without Sen. Blunt on the ticket, the Republicans will be favored to hold Missouri. As states like Colorado, Virginia, and Georgia are moving to the left, Missouri is among the places with a recent rightward tilt. For the 100 years before 2008, however, the Show Me State was considered a bellwether in presidential years, backing the winning national candidate in every year except 1956.
With a 50-50 Senate, Republicans having first to defend five and possibly as many as seven or even more open seats certainly puts them at a disadvantage in attempting to regain the majority they lost in 2020. With the open seats in expensive states such as Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Ohio, plus funding key challenger races in Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire, and possibly Nevada, the GOP resources will likely be stretched.
The number of open seats, a challenging resource battle, and potentially seeing massive changes in voting procedure, will make 2022 a tougher campaign year for Republicans even at a time that history suggests should be favorable. Typically, most minority parties receive a boost in the first midterm of a new presidency.
The 2022 election cycle is already off to a quick pace, and more of the same is expected to continue through almost the next two years, till Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.