Eric Schmitt has won the Republican nomination for Senate in Missouri, NBC News projects, ending a comeback bid by the state’s disgraced former governor, Eric Greitens.
Schmitt, the state’s attorney general, was leading Rep. Vicky Hartzler, with Greitens further behind in third place, according to early results. He will face the winner of Tuesday’s Democratic primary between Marine 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 contest commanded extraordinary attention for a primary in a reliably red state.
A Greitens victory likely would have made for a more competitive general election to succeed Sen. 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, partially out of concern for a Greitens nomination. A longtime Republican, Wood was heavily supported by former Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., who is bankrolling 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 been hoping for a last-minute boost from former President Donald Trump, who had ruled out backing Hartzler and vowed Monday to make a last-minute endorsement in the race. Trump had in the past praised Greitens, and his eldest son’s partner, Kimberly Guilfoyle, chaired Greitens’ campaign. But Trump ultimately issued a cop-out endorsement of “Eric” — meaning Schmitt or Greitens — and said he trusted Missouri voters to “make up their own minds.”
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 an extramarital affair with a woman who accused him of taking a nude photograph of her without her consent, he denied the more serious accusations. A felony invasion-of-privacy charge was later dropped. So was the probe into his campaign finances.
More recent allegations by his ex-wife that Greitens abused her and their young son — allegations that Greitens has denied — were the subject of an advertising blitz by Show Me Values, an anti-Greitens super PAC that spent more than $6 million on ads in the race, according to the ad-tracking firm AdImpact. Show Me Values was the biggest spender in the primary, followed by a pro-Schmitt PAC. Greitens spent only $137,000 on ads, though an aligned super PAC provided more than $2 million in air cover.
A former Navy SEAL, Greitens also drew criticism for a campaign video that featured him in tactical gear and armed with a shotgun as he went “RINO hunting” — a play on the acronym for “Republicans in Name Only.” Facebook removed the video for violating policies against inciting violence. But in the final weeks, the race essentially was a three-way battle featuring Schmitt, Hartzler and Greitens.
Schmitt emerged from a 21-candidate field that also included Rep. Billy Long and Mark McCloskey, the St. Louis lawyer who received a speaking slot at the 2020 GOP convention after being arrested for waving a rifle at Black Lives Matter demonstrators outside his home.
The state’s attorney general since 2019, Schmitt presented himself as a staunch opponent of President Joe Biden, citing lawsuits his office filed against the administration.
“I wake up, I go to the office, I sue Joe Biden, I go home,” Schmitt is fond of saying.
Hartzler, who was endorsed by the state’s other Republican senator, Josh Hawley, often sought to distinguish herself by dismissing her leading rivals as two Erics both alike in indignity.
“This Eric puts rifles in his ads, and Eric Schmitt plays with a blow torch,” Hartzler said in one recent ad. “So I brought my chainsaw. Just kidding.”
The Democratic primary, with 11 candidates, drew less attention while centering on Kunce and Valentine. Kunce, who relished contrasting his populist message with Valentine’s insider credentials, earned buzz in national progressive circles and landed a last-minute endorsement Monday from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Ben Kamisar contributed.