Greitens says supporters have ‘bar-fight intensity’ in bid for Missouri Senate seat

Former governor spoke at rural Macon County Lincoln Days dinner Friday night

By: - April 17, 2021 11:34 am

Former Gov. Eric Greitens speaks at the Macon County Lincoln Days dinner in April 2021 (Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent).

MACON — Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens showed he still has an enthusiastic following among rural voters Friday night, with his entrance at the Macon County Lincoln Days highlighted by an extended standing ovation.

Greitens, who is seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2022, waited to make his entrance until the evening’s most popular event — the homemade pie auctioned at prices up to $400 — was complete. But as he made his way through the crowd of more than 250 people, he demonstrated that despite two years of political exile after resigning in disgrace, he maintains a base of support in deeply conservative swaths of Missouri.

Greitens told the crowd that he plans run an aggressive campaign that will “stand up to the establishment and stand up to the left.”

During his 25-minute stump speech, Greitens proclaimed he had the support of many major allies of former President Donald Trump, including Rudy Giuliani, and dropped Trump’s name 11 times in the first five minutes of his talk.

“I’ll tell you this, the mainstream media doesn’t like it. And the leftists hate it, but the fact is Macon County and Northeast Missouri is Trump country,” Greitens said.

He made no reference to the reasons he served only 17 months as governor. The only allusion to the indictments and impeachment investigation that led to his resignation at the end of May 2018 was in his introduction by Robin Simpson, who has backed Greitens since he launched his campaign for governor in 2015 and served as president of his controversial dark-money nonprofit, A New Missouri Inc.

Former Gov. Eric Greitens waits to be introduced Friday night at the Macon County Lincoln Days dinner. (Andrew Murphy photo)

“As you know, he’s gone through a lot,” Simpson said. “And we all had to watch it. And it was heartbreaking. But let me tell you this. He’s back. Yes, he’s back. And he’s stronger. He is stronger, and he’s wiser. And he is ready to fight.”

The county Lincoln Days circuit is where Republican candidates go to engage in retail politics. New candidates introduce themselves and familiar candidates renew acquaintances and enlist volunteers.

This year, the circuit is especially important because U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt will retire after two terms in the upper chamber, ending a political career that began in 1973 when he was appointed Greene County Clerk. 

Greitens has only one announced major opponent for the nomination, Attorney General Eric Schmitt. And Jackson County Republicans will get a chance to see them both on Saturday night. There are several other candidates waiting in the wings, however, with one of the most likely, U.S. Rep. Jason Smith of Salem, planning a fundraiser later this month at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

Democratic candidates in the race so far include former state Sen. Scott Sifton and Marine Corps veteran and attorney Lucas Kunce. 

Only someone who identifies with Trump – and his grievances over the 2020 election result – will get the backing of Macon County Republicans, said county chairman Dean Vansickle and county Republican club president John Kerns.

“The fact that we had the election stolen” will make GOP voters enthusiastic for 2022, Vansickle said.

“Macon County is about God, guns and freedom,” Kerns added. “We got things taken away from us.”

The sense that Greitens is among those who had something taken from him will help him with many Macon County voters.

“I’m sold on Gov. Greitens,” said Teresa Gates, who was chatting with friend Linda Mohn before the prime rib dinner was served. “I’m a Trump voter.”

“We want someone who stands for the truth,” Mohn said.

Former Gov. Eric Greitens signs a book for a supporter Friday night at the Macon County Lincoln Days dinner. (Andrew Murphy photo)

Greitens burst onto the political scene in 2015 when he entered a crowded Republican primary for governor with no previous experience as a candidate. He had previously flirted with running for Congress as a Democrat.

He built his political persona on his military career and post-military creation of the not-for-profit The Mission Continues. He defeated three primary opponents with established Republican names and then won in November, riding Trump’s coattails to victory.

His political life unraveled when a woman with whom he had a brief affair in 2015 testified under oath that Greitens taped her hands to pull-up rings in his basement, blindfolded her, spit water into her mouth, ripped open her shirt, pulled down her pants and took a photo of her to use as blackmail to keep her from talking about their relationship.

That led to his indictment and the impeachment investigation.

The inquiries widened to include improper use of donor lists from the Mission Continues to help his campaign  — which led to a second felony charge — and the operation of dark-money groups with undisclosed donors.

Since his resignation, which was part of a plea deal involving the second felony charge, Greitens and his wife have divorced.

He was reinstated as an officer in the Naval Reserve, assigned to the Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron 10, stationed at Bridgeton, on Jan. 14, 2020, according to a service biography provided by the Navy Department.

It is not an active duty posting.

Much of his stump speech used themes familiar from his campaign for governor. There were allusions to his time in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and an outline of what he did with The Mission Continues.

He also identified his perceived enemies and then attacked them.

“We got the Lincoln Project coming after us,” Greitens said. “We got the establishment in the swamp and the mainstream media coming after us.”

He took the pose of an aggressive fighter and sought to depict Democrats — especially President Joe Biden — as weak.

His internal polling, Greitens said, shows him with a wide lead over any potential opponents

Greitens has hired Trump’s pollster Tony Fabrizio to conduct his surveys. 

“He said, ‘Eric, your people have bar-fight intensity. They are ready to go,’” Greitens told the crowd.

Greitens mocked Biden’s recent executive orders on guns and calls for Congressional action to expand background checks and ban assault-style rifles. The actions are an attempt to undermine the Second Amendment, Greitens said, and take away people’s guns.

“And what we know, what we know is, that if you want to stop Joe Biden from getting your guns, what you need to do is put them upstairs,” he said. “You put them upstairs and he’s not going to get them.”

After his speech, Greitens refused to take any questions from a reporter, but said he is open to a scheduled interview. He spent many minutes signing books for admirers and posing for photos.

Other Republicans will have a hard time beating him in Macon County, Vansickle said.

“Gov. Greitens is representing the people,” Vansickle said, “and what that means is we have a voice in Washington, D.C.”

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget and the legislature. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he spent 22 of his 32 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics for the Columbia Daily Tribune, where he won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.