JEFFERSON CITY — In an announcement that instantly shook Missouri's political landscape, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt said Monday morning he would not run for reelection in 2022.
"After 14 general election victories — three to county office, seven to the United States House of Representatives and four statewide elections — I won't be a candidate for reelection to the United States Senate next year," Blunt, a Republican first elected to the Senate in 2010, said in a video posted to Twitter.
Blunt, 71, became Missouri's senior U.S. senator in 2019 after incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill was defeated in her 2018 reelection bid by then-Attorney General Josh Hawley.
Blunt's announcement on Monday jolted state GOP insiders who were beginning to consider the party's course.
One thing was clear: Blunt's retirement presented a rare opening for numerous Republicans, who dominate in Missouri politics, to advance their political careers.
Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, a Republican from Jefferson City, indicated in a statement shortly after Blunt's announcement that he would consider running.
"Missourians will have an important decision to make about who is best to fill this vital Senate seat in 2022," Kehoe said. Referring to the state's second lady, Claudia Kehoe, he said, "Claudia and I intend to spend some time talking with family, friends and supporters about how I can best contribute to the future of our great state."
Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who won a four-year term last November after being appointed to the post in 2019 by Gov. Mike Parson, confirmed in a statement that he was also considering a run for Senate.
He has repeatedly delved into national issues, which last year included joining an ill-fated Texas lawsuit that challenged the results of the 2020 election. He also sued China in federal court over the COVID-19 pandemic.
Former Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned amid scandal in 2018, said last week in a radio interview that he was "evaluating" a campaign. In that same interview, just a week before Blunt announced his retirement, Greitens criticized the senator for not adequately backing former President Donald Trump.
In a sign that he's leaning toward a run, Greitens is keynoting an April 16 Lincoln Day Dinner sponsored by the Macon County Republican Party.
Wagner and Smith both released statements Monday indicating interest in the seat.
Another potential candidate, this one a political outsider: former Nascar driver Carl Edwards, who lives in Columbia, Missouri.
"I've heard that expressed, but it's been 6, 7 months," said John Hancock, former chairman of the Missouri GOP.
The longtime Republican said "I suspect that potential candidates are going to talk among themselves and I would hope that we could avoid a nasty and contentious primary, because that will offer us the best shot of retaining the seat. And I think those conversations will play out over the next several months.
"I wouldn't expect any candidacy announcements in the short term," Hancock said. "The ideal situation would be that we coalesce behind the strongest possible candidate."
A crowded GOP primary has burned Republicans in the past.
In 2012, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin won a competitive GOP primary only to lose in a landslide to McCaskill that November after he said in a TV interview "legitimate" rape won't cause pregnancy.
McCaskill later admitted she helped Akin win the primary because she considered him the weakest candidate in the general election.
In 1992, Blunt, then Missouri secretary of state, was among three Republicans fighting furiously to be Missouri's governor. The others were then-state Treasurer Wendell Bailey and then-Attorney General Bill Webster.
Democrat Mel Carnahan won that November in a Democratic wave year.
Hancock said the messy GOP primary "played a factor" in Carnahan's win, "but it's a fundamentally different state today than it was 28 years ago."
The only Missouri Democrat who has announced a campaign in 2022 is former state Sen. Scott Sifton, of south St. Louis County, who won the early backing of Auditor Nicole Galloway, Missouri's only Democratic statewide officeholder.
On Twitter, Sifton said, "today's announcement shows just how high the stakes are for Missouri families next year. Missourians have an opportunity to vote for better leadership than they've been getting from our two Senators. We cannot double down on the dangerous Josh Hawley approach of undermining democracy and dividing Missourians.
"I'm running to deliver for working families like I have my entire career," he said.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas also said he is mulling a bid.
“I rise each day thinking about how I can best serve the people of Kansas City and Missouri, and I will consider over the next several weeks whether that is in a statewide position — something no African American in Missouri has ever done," Lucas said.
Former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Democrat who came within 78,000 votes of defeating Blunt in 2016 on the same night Hillary Clinton lost the state by 523,000 votes, reiterated on Twitter Monday that he was not running for Senate in 2022.
Blunt, in his retirement announcement, thanked all Missourians for the opportunity to serve.
"I want to thank my family, and thank the great team that came together to help me work for you," Blunt said. "Most importantly, thanks to Missourians, whether you voted for me or not, for the opportunity to work for you and a better future for our state and our country."
Hancock said Blunt "is a unique mix of policy expertise and great political skill. And that's a rarer and rarer breed in Washington these days. And there was never a time where I heard someone ask a policy question of Roy Blunt when he didn't know the details of the issue … . You just don't find that every day any more," he said.
Kurt Erickson of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.