Beer heiress Trudy Busch Valentine captures Missouri Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate

By: and - August 2, 2022 10:25 pm

Trudy Busch Valentine emerged victorious in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate on Aug. 2, 2022 (Rebecca Rivas/Missouri Independent).

Anheuser-Busch heiress Trudy Busch Valentine won the Democratic nomination for Missouri’s open U.S. Senate seat Tuesday, defeating her closest rival, former Marine Lucas Kunce.

With nearly all precincts reporting, Busch had won 43% of the vote, compared to 38% for Kunce.

Throughout her campaign, Valentine has said working as a nurse and experiencing immense grief from family tragedies have both taught her how to listen to people’s needs and to be of service. 

“When I was young, I saw nurses take care of people, stay calm in crisis and solve problems,” said Valentine, at her election watch party at the Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 Union Hall in St. Louis. “I became a nurse because I was inspired by their dedication to service. And that same dedication to service is why I stand here tonight as your Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate.”

Valentine thanked Kunce and all her primary contenders, saying, “It’s so good for democracy when people step up and run.” 

Valentine entered the race for U.S. Senate in March, becoming one of 11 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt. Like Valentine, the other Democratic candidates have never held public office before. However, both Kunce and Toder launched their campaigns more than a year ago.

“It speaks to her strength as a candidate that she was able to come in and coalesce huge amounts of support really quickly,” said Jack Seigel, a former political staffer and St. Louis County resident. “That’s impressive.”

Valentine, a mother of six children and a nurse, is a member of the family that owned a majority stake in Anheuser-Busch until the brewing company was sold to InBev in 2008 for $52 billion. Forbes magazine in 2020 listed the family’s wealth at $17.6 billion, the 16th largest family fortune in the nation

She  told The Independent this spring that she felt drawn to do whatever she could to fight the opioid epidemic and improve access to quality healthcare, following her son’s death in 2020 from an opioid overdose. 

In addition to her son’s passing, Valentine said she was also inspired to enter politics out of a desire to speak up for women’s rights. In June, Valentine released a 17-point plan for “Strengthening the Middle Class,” which includes raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, expanding options for affordable housing and lowering the cost of medications. 

Valentine’s first major policy proposal, released in May, focused on helping drug addicts recover by using leverage in the federal payments for Medicaid to increase rates to providers, quicker access to treatment and expanded use of telehealth.  

In the campaign’s homestretch, she earned scorn from some in her party’s base after fumbling answers on LGBTQ rights, campaign finance and critical race theory. She also drew criticism for her refusal to debate her Democratic rivals. 

But in the end, support from Democratic leaders — such as St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver — and her willingness to spend her family fortune to capture the seat carried her to victory. 

Justin Idleburg, a racial equity consultant in St. Louis, said he decided to support Valentine because her experience as a nurse makes her a better fit to address the healing his community needs. 

“We need a healer,” Idleburg said. “And nothing against the men but when a child gets hurt, they go automatically to their mother or the grandmother. And she’s a nurse who has a history of helping everyone.”

Kunce addressed a crowd of about 50 staffers, volunteers and supporters in downtown Kansas City just before 11 p.m.

“I love y’all,” he began. “We did something amazing here.”

Kunce said the campaign made him think of his working class upbringing, when he wore thrift store clothes while other kids had name brands. His campaign, he said, went up against the same kind of system.

“We knew what this system was about,” he said. “We knew that it was about money and nothing else.”

He urged kids growing up in thrift store clothes to look how close his campaign — made up of “misfits” — came to victory, noting Valentine’s television spending swamped his.

Kunce thanked his staff, who he said “built a movement.”

“We didn’t win, but it’s a miracle what we did,” Kunce said, adding that his campaign’s job is now to support Democrats up and down the ballot in November. “Because Missouri’s the front line for the fight for Democracy. I truly believe that.”

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Rebecca Rivas
Rebecca Rivas

Rebecca Rivas is a multimedia reporter who covers Missouri's cannabis industry. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, she has been reporting in Missouri since 2001, including more than a decade as senior reporter and video producer at the St. Louis American, the nation’s leading African-American newspaper.

Allison Kite
Allison Kite

Allison Kite is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on energy, the environment and agriculture. A graduate of the University of Kansas, she previously covered City Hall for The Kansas City Star, as well as state government in both Topeka and Jefferson City.