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Missouri attorney general enters GOP race for U.S. Senate, hoping to succeed Blunt

Missouri attorney general enters GOP race for U.S. Senate, hoping to succeed Blunt

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all-time favorite picture of Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt speaks on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, at a news conference at his downtown office. (Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com)

ST. LOUIS — Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced Wednesday he will run next year for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, hoping to fill the seat held by retiring U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt.

Schmitt, 45, enters the race two days after former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens announced on Fox News he would be a candidate.

The attorney general made his announcement on Fox & Friends.

Like Greitens, who earlier pledged to fight for former President Donald Trump’s agenda, Schmitt pledged to be a fighter for Missouri and “conservative values.”

“Washington DC needs more fighters. Fighters who want to save America. That’s why I’m running for the United States Senate,” Schmitt said via Twitter.

Schmitt said on Fox, “Increasingly, it feels like our culture and our country is slipping away and all the levers of power in Washington, D.C. are tilted towards the Democrats.”

Schmitt said he’s worked as attorney general defending Trump and an “America First” agenda, and he’s now spending his time pushing back against President Joe Biden.

In a written release announcing his candidacy, Schmitt railed against “the radical left” and alluded to the threat of Republicans losing the Senate seat if Greitens wins the GOP nomination, saying Missouri needs “a leader who can hold this Senate seat in firm Republican hands without giving Democrats any chance to take this seat back.”

“In my public service, I have never quit fighting for Missouri and our conservative values,” Schmitt said. “Missourians deserve a life-long conservative who they know will never quit fighting for them.”

Gov. Mike Parson appointed Schmitt, then the state treasurer, as attorney general after Josh Hawley was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2018. Parson succeeded Greitens, who resigned in 2018.

Schmitt was elected treasurer in 2016; before that, he served two terms in the Missouri Senate. A St. Louis County native, he also served as an alderman in Glendale.

Greitens has been a sharp critic of Parson and Blunt; Schmitt has been an ally of the current governor.

As attorney general, Schmitt stoked controversy by joining a Texas-led lawsuit challenging the 2020 presidential election. He also sued China last year for allegedly causing the global pandemic.

Two other Republican statewide officials, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe and Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, have said they would not enter the Senate race. Kehoe said he is instead eyeing a run for governor in 2024. Parson has said he is not seeking reelection.

Four of the state’s six Republican U.S. House members have expressed interest in Blunt’s Senate seat: U.S. Reps. Ann Wagner, Jason Smith, Vicky Hartzler and Billy Long.

Blunt’s decision not to run for another term, which he announced March 8, opened the floodgates for ambitious Republicans interested in succeeding him. But with Kehoe and Ashcroft out, the GOP field is quickly narrowing.

Potentially damaging primary

Political scientists have speculated that Republicans are trying to unify around a single candidate to avoid a potentially damaging primary. Greitens’ candidacy complicates that.

Greitens, who has been laying the groundwork for a comeback for months if not years, is a polarizing figure unpopular with the state’s Republican establishment.

The former Navy SEAL officer was once seen as a rising star in Republican politics, possibly even a future presidential candidate. Those aspirations seemed to vanish in 2018 when his extramarital affair was exposed. A felony charge accused him of taking a compromising photo of the woman as potential blackmail if she spoke of their encounters.

Greitens then faced a second criminal charge accusing him of using a donor list from his charity for his political campaign.

Greitens, who now is divorced but was married at the time, admitted to the affair but denied wrongdoing in both cases. Still, he resigned in June 2018 and the criminal cases were dismissed.

He maintains a core of support that could be enough to win a primary, but political observers have said the scandals that pushed him out of the governor’s mansion could thwart Republicans’ chances of keeping the U.S. Senate seat.

Democratic field

Three Democrats have announced their candidacies: former state Sen. Scott Sifton, D-south St. Louis County; Lucas Kunce, a Jefferson City native who has branded himself a “progressive populist”; and Timothy Shepard, a political activist from Kansas City.

State Sen. Brian Williams of University City, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and St. Louis attorney Elad Gross are among Democrats who have expressed interest.

“I guess look out it if I’m on Fox News anytime soon,” Lucas joked Wednesday on Twitter, responding to the Schmitt and Greitens announcements. The Kansas City mayor added: “I have strong disagreements with Eric Schmitt’s political actions and the lawsuits he’s brought (China, election overturn, etc.), but he is a good man, father, and husband at his core. I wish him well in the Republican primary. I hope me saying that doesn’t hurt him.”

Missouri last voted for a Democrat for U.S. Senate in 2012, when incumbent Claire McCaskill defeated Republican nominee Todd Akin. Hawley beat her in 2018.

The Associated Press and the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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