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GOP loyals hear Missouri Senate hopefuls make familiar arguments: experience vs. outsider status

U.S. Rep. Billy Long speaks to a ballroom of people in St. Charles about why he should be Missouri's next senator at the state GOP's annual Lincoln Days on Feb. 12, 2022. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Attorney Mark McCloskey also attended the candidate forum.
Eric Schmid
St. Louis Public Radio
U.S. Rep. Billy Long speaks to a ballroom of people in St. Charles about why he should be Missouri's next senator at the state GOP's annual Lincoln Days on Feb. 12, 2022. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Attorney Mark McCloskey also attended the candidate forum.

ST. CHARLES — Four Republicans running for an open U.S. Senate seat in Missouri cast the nominating race as a decision between political experience and energy from outsiders during a candidate forum on Saturday.

Attorney Mark McCloskey, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and U.S. Representatives Billy Long and Vicky Hartzler each made their case to a filled ballroom at the Missouri GOP’s annual Lincoln Days event.

Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens was invited to the forum but did not attend.

The candidates at the forum sought to distinguish their records and experience from each other, with the dividing line along a familiar theme in recent years: outsider status and time spent in Washington DC.

Hatrzler, of Harrisonville, received a formal endorsement from Republican Senator Josh Hawley just before the forum began, and touted accomplishments from her past 12 years as a congresswoman.

“I’ve sponsored past bills to defend the border. I’ve helped rebuild the national defense,” she said. “I’ve helped pass rural broadband for America. I want to continue to make sure tomorrow is as bright for our kids as it was yesterday.”

The congresswoman also keyed in on a topic all the candidates referenced at different points, their commitment to former President Donald Trump.

“I stood with President Trump and voted with him 95% of the time, more than anyone else in the house,” she said.

Long, from Springfield, acknowledged to the crowd he didn’t vote with the former president as often, but still emphasized Trump’s important role within the GOP and its agenda.

“The best way to bring manufacturing back to the United States of America is to elect Donald Trump,” he said. “We need to do what Trump did on all his tough China policies, because it was starting and we were getting manufacturing back.”

Long also had a more general message for Republican voters in the state beyond his own candidacy: Missourians must do what they can to ensure a Republican fills the seat after Roy Blunt retires

“We need to send the right person to the United States Senate that can not only win the primary, but also win the general election,” Long said. “It’s appalling to think that we can elect somebody that we’re going to spend $40-$50 million to get across the finish line and may not get them across the finish line.”

He clarified after the forum that this comment was specifically about Eric Greitens.

The sentiment wasn’t shared among all the candidates though.

“It’s not enough to elect Republicans, to have people with an ‘R’ behind their name,” McCloskey said. “You’ve got to have people that are willing to go out there and genuinely make change, to take a stand, no matter what it costs them. Emotionally, physically, economically, socially.”

He emphasized this argument pointing to the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans were unable to repeal despite holding the presidency and majorities in both houses of Congress.

Schmitt made arguments similar to McCloskey, seeking to cast his outsider status in congressional politics as more valuable for Missourians than any experience on Capitol Hill.

“This is not the time to send the same folks back there who’ve been part of the D.C. establishment, folks,” he said. “We need to pass term limits because folks get [to Washington], they think they’re going to change D.C. and then they become D.C., part of the establishment.”

The attorney general railed against what he said was inaction from other politicians, while he has spearheaded many challenges surrounding increasingly divisive issues, like mask mandates at schools.

“I am the one that’s pushing back. I am the one taking action,” Schmitt said. “I’m not talking about holding hearings. I’m talking about taking Biden to court.”

It’s this aspect to Schmitt’s candidacy that excites some Missouri residents

“He’s stood up, he’s fought for Missouri and is continuing to fight,” said Neosho resident David Osborn.

Others expressed similar sentiments.

“I believe the attorney general is a leading candidate because of his ability to go in and argue the direct points against the Biden administration and some of the ideas they have,” said Eddie Brown, who traveled to the event from Jefferson City.

Brown added he was open to the other candidates if they could clearly articulate how they would help every day Missourians.

“Our citizens need help right now,” he said. “We’ve got problems with inflation right now. People are going to suffer because of that. We need a Senate candidate that is going to go in and help turn that around.”

After the forum, Brown said he was impressed by Hartzler’s comments but they weren’t enough to pull his support from Schmitt.

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program: Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. 

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Eric Schmid covers the Metro East area in Illinois for St. Louis Public Radio. He joins the news team as its first Report for America corps member and is tasked with expanding KWMU's coverage east from the Mississippi. Before joining St. Louis Public Radio, Eric held competitive internships at Fox News Channel, NPR-affiliate WSHU Public Radio and AccuWeather. As a news fellow at WSHU's Long Island Bureau, he covered governments and environmental issues as well as other general assignments. Eric grew up in Northern Colorado but attended Stony Brook University, in New York where he earned his degree in journalism in 2018. He is an expert skier, avid reader and lifelong musician-he plays saxophone and clarinet.