Eric Schmitt has won the Republican Senate nomination in Missouri, NBC News projects, ending a comeback bid from disgraced former state governor Eric Greitens.
Schmitt, the state attorney general, led Representative Vicky Hartzler, with Greitens further in third place, according to early results. He will face the winner of Tuesday’s Democratic primary between Navy veteran Lucas Kunce and Trudy Busch Valentine, a nurse and heir to the Anheuser-Busch beer fortune. That race is too early to call.
The GOP match forced extraordinary attention to a primary in a reliable red state.
A Greitens victory would likely have made for a more competitive general election to replace Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican who is not seeking a third term this fall. John Wood, a former investigator for the House Jan. 6 committee, launched an independent bid, partly out of concern for a Greitens nomination. A longtime Republican, Wood was heavily backed by former Senator John Danforth, R-Mo., who funds a pro-Wood super PAC.
With control of the 50-50 Senate up for grabs, national GOP groups preferred not to spend money defending a seat in Missouri.
Greitens had hoped for a last-minute boost from former President Donald Trump, who had ruled out backing Hartzler and pledged Monday to give a last-minute approval to the race. Trump had praised Greitens in the past, and his oldest son’s partner, Kimberly Guilfoyle, chaired Greitens’ campaign. But Trump eventually endorsed “Eric” — meaning Schmitt or Greitens — and said he trusted Missouri voters to “make their own decision.”
Once a rising star in national politics, Greitens resigned as governor in 2018 amid investigations into alleged sexual misconduct and campaign finance violations. Although Greitens has admitted to having an extramarital affair with a woman who accused him of taking a nude photo of her without her permission, he denied the more serious charges. A charge of invasion of privacy was later dropped. So did the investigation into his campaign finances.
More recent allegations from his ex-wife that Greitens allegedly abused her and their young son – allegations Greitens has denied – were the subject from an advertising blitz of Show Me Values, an anti-Greitens super PAC that spent more than $6 million on in-race ads, according to ad tracking company AdImpact. Show Me Values was the biggest spender in the primary, followed by a pro-Schmitt PAC. Greitens spent just $137,000 on advertising, though an aligned super PAC brought in over $2 million in aerial coverage.
Greitens, a former Navy SEAL, also received criticism for a campaign video in which he went on a “RINO hunt” in tactical gear and armed with a shotgun — a play on the acronym for “Republicans in Name Only.” Facebook has removed the video for violating its policy against incitement to violence. But in the final weeks, the race was essentially a threesome with Schmitt, Hartzler and Greitens.
Schmitt came from a field of 21 candidates that included Representative Billy Long and Mark McCloskey, the St. Louis attorney who was given a speaking engagement at the 2020 GOP convention after being arrested for shooting Black Lives Matter with a gun. protesters outside his house.
Schmitt, the state’s attorney general since 2019, presented himself as a staunch opponent of President Joe Biden, citing lawsuits his office had filed against the government.
“I wake up, I go to the office, I sue Joe Biden, I go home,” Schmitt likes to say.
Hartzler, who was backed by the state’s other Republican senator, Josh Hawley, often tried to differentiate herself by dismissing her leading rivals as two Erics who were both equal in humiliation.
“This Eric puts guns in his ads and Eric Schmitt plays with a flashlight,” Hartzler said in a recent ad:. “So I took my chainsaw with me. Just kidding.”
The Democratic primary, with 11 candidates, attracted less attention, but focused on Kunce and Valentine. Kunce, who liked to pit his populist message against Valentine’s insider credentials, earned buzz in national progressive circles and received a last-minute approval from Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Ben Kamisar contributed.