This story was originally published by the Missouri Independent.
Jay Ashcroft’s decision not to run to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt seems to have foreclosed GOP hopes of avoiding a contested 2022 primary.
Nearly every prominent Republican in Missouri is now openly considering joining the race, with each seemingly convinced they have the clearest path to victory (and equally worried they’ll be the only one left without a chair when the music stops).
Just as important: The Senate seat is only the first domino that could ultimately fall.
If any of Missouri’s congressional delegation jumps in, it would set off a scramble to replace them, with state lawmakers and local officials lining up for a chance at a seat in the U.S. House.
That, of course, would open the floodgates for those seeking to jump into legislative races.
And don’t forget, it’s a redistricting year, so where congressional district lines end up could be impacted by the ambitions of the legislators tasked with drawing the maps.
So two weeks after Blunt’s surprise retirement shook up the political order, where does the race to replace him stand? Here’s a rundown of the GOP candidates.
The retired NASCAR driver from Columbia was the subject of a lot of chatter among Missouri politicos in the immediate wake of Blunt’s announcement. It’s been virtually silent ever since, leaving most believing an Edward’s candidacy is unlikely.
The 33-year-old state treasurer is not immune from the draw of an open Senate seat. But he’s still widely believed to be eyeing a run for state auditor in 2022, a race that is far more likely to avoid a messy GOP primary.
Hartzler has represented the sprawling 4th Congressional District since 2011, and is one of only two GOP women holding a prominent elected office in Missouri. She is said to be seriously looking at the race, with KMBC-TV’s Mike Mahoney reporting she has authorized her campaign team to explore Senate run
The congressman from southwest Missouri has been underestimated his entire political career. Now, as he openly mulls joining the race for U.S. Senate, he believes he can outperform expectations once again. He knows former President Trump personally, giving him the chance to earn what could be a game changing endorsement. And when he was recently asked who he might consider endorsing to replace Blunt, Long quickly responded: “Billy Long.”
No potential candidate was more affected by Ashcroft’s decision to forgo a Senate campaign than Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe. He was said to be most interested in running for governor, but the prospect of potentially facing off with Ashcroft in the 2024 gubernatorial primary may have upended those plans. He’s been making calls about the 2022 Senate race, but seems to be biding his time to see how the GOP field lines up. One advantage he has is a longstanding relationship with the Blunt family. It’s very, very unlikely Blunt wades into a contested primary, but he could quietly open doors behind-the-scenes for a preferred candidate if he chooses. (Update: After this article published, Kehoe announced he would not run in 2022 and instead run for governor in 2024.)
Wagner was supposed to be the GOP nominee in 2018 against Democrat Claire McCaskill. But she was essentially pushed out of that race by the eventual winner, U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley. She went on to win re-election twice in her suburban St. Louis district despite tough political headwinds and well-funded Democratic opponents. Most say whether Wagner jumps into the race will depend on how wide-open the primary ends up being. She could benefit if she’s the only woman in a crowded field.
Smith has served in Congress representing Missouri’s bootheel since 2013. He’s been a staunch Trump ally, and is said to have a close relationship with the Trump family. He could have a real shot at a Trump endorsement and, even if the former president doesn’t weigh in, Smith brings to the race conservative bona fides, fundraising chops and a GOP-rich voter base in southeast Missouri.
Of all the candidates seriously mulling a run, Brunner is the only self funder. He spent $8 million of his own money running for Senate in 2012 and $6 million running for governor in 2016 — losing both times in crowded GOP primaries. He’s said to be serious about jumping into the fray again, and has no love lost for one of the other potential candidates, former Gov. Eric Greitens (the infamous, at least in Missouri political circles, “you are such a weasel” phone call is sure to have a second life). The only thing that might hold him back is the fear that by joining the race and splintering the vote he may inadvertently help Greitens’ chances.
The disgraced former governor is said to be putting together a staff to run in 2022, capping more than two years of work trying to rehabilitate his image after resigning under an avalanche of scandal and felony charges in 2018. At first, Blunt’s retirement was seen as a hindrance to his ambitions, as he had hoped to run as an outsider against a “career politician.” But a messy primary could be Greitens’ biggest asset, allowing him to potentially win the nomination with only a slice of the vote. It’s a nightmare scenario for the state’s Republican leaders, who worry he could be the Democrats’ only chance at capturing the seat.
Missouri’s attorney general is said to be committed to entering the race. But he’s still hoping to avoid a crowded primary, with his political team working behind the scenes to try keep potential challengers from jumping in before Schmitt makes it official. He’s been eyeing a Senate run for years, but his moderate record during his two terms as a state senator from St. Louis County was seen as a hindrance in a primary. Since being elected state treasurer in 2016, and especially following his appointment as attorney general in 2019, Schmitt has worked to bolster his conservative credentials — most recently by joining lawsuits aimed at overturning President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory.