Missouri AG Eric Schmitt beats Hartzler, Greitens to claim GOP Senate nomination

Schmitt’s public persona morphed as he geared up for a U.S. Senate bid, from a state senator most considered toward the party’s center to a blowtorch-wielding MAGA Republican

By: , and - August 2, 2022 9:04 pm

Attorney General Eric Schmitt poses with a supporter after claiming the Republican nomination for Missouri’s open U.S. Senate seat on Aug. 2, 2022 (Tessa Weinberg/Missouri Independent).

ST. LOUIS — Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt beat back a crowded field of opponents Tuesday night to secure the Republican nomination for Missouri’s open U.S. Senate seat.

With most precincts reporting, Schmitt led with 45% of the vote, compared to 22% for U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler and 19% for disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens.

“I don’t come from billions. I come from Bridgeton. I’m proud of my working class roots. And I’m going to Washington to fight for working families, defeat socialism and lead the fight to save America,” Schmitt said to supporters gathered at the Sheraton Westport Lakeside Chalet.

Schmitt’s win capped a wild GOP primary, which featured 21 candidates vying for the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt. In the end, Schmitt bested the two candidates seen as his main rivals.

A crowd of around 100 heard from Hartzler at the Cider House in Garden City — and it was the speech they didn’t want to hear. She said she had just called Schmitt to congratulate him on the victory.

“We fought hard, left no stone unturned, but unfortunately the outcome was not what we had hoped for,” Hartzler said.

Hartzler pledged to back Schmitt, something she said in February she would not do if the nominee was Greitens.

“The road to retaking the majority in the U.S. Senate runs right through Missouri,” Hartzler said.

U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler concedes the Republican Senate primary Tuesday night in a speech to her election night party in Cass County (Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent).

At Greitens’ election night party in Chesterfield, his concession speech was brief and he didn’t mention Schmitt by name.

“God has a plan, it doesn’t always work on our timeline,” Greitens said, later adding: “Let’s keep the fight alive.”

Greitens’ supporters stood divided, with some vowing to support Schmitt and others saying they will boycott the general election in November. Greitens didn’t provide guidance either way, telling his supporters he loved them, with echoes of “I love you too” in the audience.

Katy Hinkley from St Louis, who attended Greitens’ election night party, said she will support Schmitt in the general election but will be disappointed if Greitens leaves politics. She hinted at the scandals that forced him from office in 2018, as well as the allegations of child abuse that his ex-wife made against him this year.

“One of the reasons why I think maybe he does have supporters is because people admire the grit and determination in the face of attacks and an onslaught of people essentially paid to derail his career,” Hinkley said of Greitens.

Ron Lowrey, a retired geologist from St. Louis who has supported Greitens for years, said before results were announced that if Schmitt won, he’d probably “just leave it blank at that point,” citing what he viewed as Schmitt’s allegiances with ‘RINOs,’ or Republicans in Name Only.

“I have to think about my own conscience,” Lowrey said.

Schmitt’s public persona morphed form as he geared up for a U.S. Senate bid, from a state senator most considered toward the party’s center to a blowtorch-wielding MAGA Republican. His campaign focused on his bevy of lawsuits as attorney general challenging everything from school mask mandates to China’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking to supporters, Schmitt said the country was entering its most consequential decade in American history since the Civil War and vowed to push back on “President Biden’s all out assault on our liberties.” 

That includes tackling inflation, securing the U.S.-Mexico border and finishing former President Donald Trump’s border wall, he said.

“​​As your senator, I’ll take a blowtorch,” to Biden’s agenda Schmitt said, referencing one of his campaign ads.

Schmitt’s victory Tuesday was telegraphed by weeks of polling showing him as the race’s frontrunner. He was aided by Greitens’ polling drop in the wake of a political action committee funded by Schmitt donors attacking Greitens with ads highlighting accusations of child abuse

“In my opinion, Greitens was never fit for office,” said Lane Osborn, a 19-year-old Neosho resident who interned on Schmitt’s campaign. “Bottom line.”

He also avoided near disaster when Trump decided against endorsing Greitens and instead endorsed an unspecified “Eric,” refusing to choose between the two and blunting any last-minute boost Trump’s seal of approval may have given Greitens’ ailing campaign.

Nevertheless, both Schmitt and Greitens claimed the endorsement as their own.

With early results looking in Schmitt’s favor an hour after the polls closed, John Brunner, who ran against Greitens in 2016 for the GOP nomination for Missouri governor, predicted a “landslide coming through here pretty darn quick.” He posed to supporters at Schmitt’s watch party: “Do we need two Erics for Missouri?”

The question was met with shouts of “no,” and multiple supporters said their support for Schmitt had been cemented well before Trump’s endorsement.

“We’ve been supporting him since 2008,” said Mary Parsons, an 82-year-old Kirkwood resident. “We’ve raised him.”

Schmitt entered politics as an alderman in Glendale, and later served in the state Senate for eight years until term limits ended his tenure in 2016. From there, Schmitt was elected state treasurer and was appointed attorney general in 2018 by Gov. Mike Parson in the wake of Greitens’ resignation. Schmitt was re-elected to the attorney general’s office for a four-year term in 2020.

“He’s been steady all the way across the board. He’s still what he was 20 years ago,” said Michelle Politte, a 58-year-old Fenton resident. “I like that about him.”

As attorney general, Schmitt has aimed to defend Trump’s administration, backing a Texas-led lawsuit seeking to invalidate the election results from ​four states in the wake of the 2020 November election. Schmitt also launched a legal blitz on hot-button issues, turning his focus to critical race theory and curriculum taught in schools, public health orders and President Joe Biden’s administration.

For Carolyn Davis, a 58-year-old Jackson resident who was between voting for Hartzler and Schmitt, Schmitt’s efforts to tackle human trafficking and lawsuits against school mask rules helped convince her he was the candidate that could ensure Missouri’s open U.S. Senate seat stayed in Republican control.

“That shows to me, he’s a fighter,” Davis said. “He’s not gonna just sit back and do nothing. He’s gonna be out front, kind of like Josh Hawley.”

His efforts haven’t always garnered praise. Fellow Republican state lawmakers accused him of using his office for political gain and earlier this year slashed $500,000 Schmitt requested for his office’s budget.

He received scrutiny after emails revealed his office had been in contact with the Rule of Law Defense Fund, the 501(c)(4) arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association, which had been involved in a robocall encouraging “patriots” to march to the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Meanwhile, Schmitt said he hopes to protect the next generation’s freedoms, and said his son, Stephen, who has special needs, “was my inspiration to want to have a greater impact on the world and make a difference.

“And that fire still burns,” Schmitt said.

Hartzler held an election watch party at the same venue where she celebrated her 2010 victory over Ike Skelton. The joy of that night was missing, however, as supporters gathered with hopes but without expectations of a victory.

Rylee Hartwell, Hartzler’s Jasper County coordinator, traveled to Cass County from Joplin with David Weaver for the event. They said they helped Hartzler because of “her genuineness.”

“She is a hard worker and she has worked her way up,” Weaver said.

Hartwell said Hartzler worked hard in southwest Missouri, visiting six times and running a strong ad campaign.

“She never changed from the start ‘til now,” he said. “She’s always represented conservative causes.”

This story has been updated since it was initially published.

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Tessa Weinberg
Tessa Weinberg

Tessa Weinberg covers education, health care and the legislature. She previously covered the Missouri statehouse for The Kansas City Star and The Columbia Missourian, where her reporting into social media use by the governor prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. She most recently covered state government in Texas for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature. He’s spent 22 of his 30 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics, most recently as the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Keller has won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.

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Clara Bates
Clara Bates

Clara Bates covers social services and poverty for The Missouri Independent. She previously wrote for the Nevada Current, where she reported on labor violations in casinos, hurdles facing applicants for unemployment benefits and lax oversight of the funeral industry. She also wrote about vocational education for Democracy Journal. Bates is a graduate of Harvard College and is a Report for America corps member.

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