Group to spend $1M attacking Eric Greitens in Missouri. Will crowded primary save him?
Attack ads from a super PAC are intended to block Greitens from the nomination. But the former governor’s critics have yet to rally around another candidate
Former Gov. Eric Greitens speaks in April 2021 at the Macon County Lincoln Days dinner (Andrew Murphy photo).
With Eric Greitens continuing to lead in most polls, Republicans worried he could cost the party a Senate seat this fall are planning to spend $1 million tearing him down before the Aug. 2 GOP primary.
But is it too little, too late?
The former Missouri governor’s standing in polls of potential primary voters has been largely unaffected by the cascade of scandals that forced him to resign in 2018 to avoid impeachment and settle a felony charge. Even fresh allegations by his ex-wife of spousal and child abuse haven’t seemed to dent his standing with core supporters.
And while his critics are desperate to deny him the Republican nomination, they have thus far been unable to rally around another candidate in the crowded primary, potentially muting any impact the attack ads may have down the final stretch.
“The one common theme we’ve seen for the last 16 months is Eric Greitens has a very high floor of support among Republican primary voters,” said James Harris, a veteran GOP consultant who is not working for any candidates in the Senate primary.
Harris said a super PAC backing Greitens has been pummeling his two main foes for the nomination — Attorney General Eric Schmitt and U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler. Meanwhile, he said Schmitt, Hartzler and U.S. Rep. Billy Long have mostly trained their fire on each other in an effort to stake their claim as Greitens’ main rival.
Republicans have been fretting about the prospect of a Greitens nomination from the moment he entered the race last year. He was forced out of the governor’s office in 2018 under an avalanche of scandal, including accusations that he sexually assaulted a women with whom he was having an affair and that he stole from a veteran’s charity he founded.
While he may have enough support to win a primary that features at least four other high-profile candidates, Republicans worry he will open the door for a Democrat to win the seat in November.
Barring an endorsement of someone other than Eric Greitens by Donald Trump, it will be very, very difficult to defeat Eric Greitens.
– James Harris, longtime GOP political consultant
“The eventual nominee will probably only need 28% of the primary vote,” Harris said. “So he doesn’t need a majority. He just needs to hang on to his base and he’s the nominee.”
The Missouri Senate flirted last year with the idea of changing the state’s primary elections to require a runoff if no candidate garners more than 50% of the vote. The effort, inspired by Greitens’ campaign for the U.S. Senate, was eventually abandoned.
Fears of a Greitens nomination increased after his ex-wife filed an affidavit as part of a child custody dispute accusing him of abusing her and their children, as well as becoming so unstable in the months before his resignation in 2018 that his access to firearms had to be limited.
Greitens has vehemently denied the accusations.
But the fact that two women have testified under penalty of perjury that he is a violent, unstable abuser has unsurprisingly rattled party leaders.
“Everything that he does is meant to distract from the fact that he is a failed elected official,” said state Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia. “He quit on the people of Missouri. He quit on his family.”
Politico reported last week that a new super PAC, Show Me Values, will begin attacking Greitens with ads highlighting the abuse allegations and accusing him of being soft on China. The first two ads, entitled “Scandal” and “Praise,” are already on the airwaves.
But even the news of a well-financed attack campaign against Greitens was greeted with angst by those who worry it could bolster his anti-establishment bona fides.
He’s spent nearly the entire campaign railing against RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) who he blames for his own downfall and accuses of betraying former President Donald Trump. That message culminated last week with a widely criticized campaign video depicting a gun-toting Greitens surrounded by men in military gear busting into a house to hunt down his political rivals.
“The only reason these RINOs are willing to fund their lies is because Gov. Greitens is leading the entire field by a mile in recent public polling,” said Dylan Johnson, Greitens’ campaign manager. “That’s why our ad scared them to death. These swamp creatures and grifters know their time at the trough is finished.”
Hovering over the race is Trump, who has yet to endorse anyone in the primary.
Republicans agree that whoever Trump endorses becomes the immediate frontrunner. Every major candidate has clamored for the former president’s approval, none more than Greitens.
He hired Kim Guilfoyle, Donald Trump Jr. ’s fiancée, as national chair of his campaign, and he’s earned support from many one-time Trump advisers, from Rudy Giuliani to Steve Bannon. He also recently released a campaign video at a gun range with Trump Jr.
“Barring an endorsement of someone other than Eric Greitens by Donald Trump,” Harris said, “it will be very, very difficult to defeat Eric Greitens. His probability of becoming the Republican nominee, whether Republican leaders like it or not, seems to be increasing. So this new effort, I fear, is coming too late.
“I hope I’m wrong.”
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