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Eric Schmitt wins contentious Missouri GOP Senate primary

Missouri Attorney General and Senate-hopeful Eric Schmitt speaks to potential voters on Saturday, July 23, 2022, during a campaign rally at Piazza Messina in Cottleville.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Attorney General and Senate-hopeful Eric Schmitt speaks to potential voters on Saturday, July 23, 2022, during a campaign rally at Piazza Messina in Cottleville.

Attorney General Eric Schmitt emerged victorious in a crowded GOP primary for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, securing a prime position to succeed Roy Blunt in the fall.

At 9 p.m. the Associated Press called the race for Schmitt. Had nearly 45% of the vote at that hour.

Schmitt prevailed over Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler and former Gov. Eric Greitens. Other major contenders in the race included Congressman Billy Long, attorney Mark McCloskey and Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, who all failed to crack the top tier of candidates.

Schmitt first burst onto the state political scene in 2008, when he captured a state Senate seat that included portions of St. Louis County. He was elected state treasurer in 2016 and was appointed attorney general in 2018. He won a full term to that post in 2020.

During the campaign, Schmitt honed in on his actions as attorney general which included filing scores of lawsuits against President Joe Biden’s policies and against COVID-19 restrictions. He appeared in one ad with an actual blowtorch promising to “take a blowtorch” to Biden’s agenda.

But Schmitt’s adversaries accused him of hiding a more moderate and conciliatory record as a state senator. That includes championing a plan known as Aerotropolis which sought to better link St. Louis Lambert International Airport with China. His foes also chastised his vote to allow Smithfield, which was purchased by a Chinese company in 2013, to buy Missouri farmland.

Schmitt largely ignored those attacks, and instead pressed on a disciplined campaign that included guidance from Jeff Roe — a Missouri-born political consultant who is best known for managing Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign and for guiding Glenn Youngkin to the Virginia governor’s office.

Schmitt benefitted from an avalanche of outside money that hammered Greitens over his multitude of scandals and Hartzler over her congressional voting record. He also had backing from high-profile Republican senators, including Cruz and Utah Sen. Mike Lee — who are both held in high esteem among conservatives.

His win showcased a distinct reversal of fortune for Greitens, who led in most public opinion polls until the latter half of July. A PAC spent millions highlighting a bitter child custody dispute with his ex-wife, Sheena Greitens, who accused him of abuse. Greitens denied those allegations.

Schmitt’s victory follows the playbook Greitens used in 2016 to win: Benefitting from millions of dollars worth of spending from outside groups.

Both Greitens and Schmitt were beneficiaries of an unusual dual endorsement from former President Donald Trump. After getting lobbied heavily for his backing for well over a year, Trump ended up endorsing ‘ERIC’ on Monday — prompting both men to claim the blessing of a political figure who is wildly popular with Missouri Republicans.

The Senate results also likely ends Hartzler’s political career, which began as a state representative in the 1990s. She represented Missouri’s 4th Congressional District for 12 years, developing a reputation for social conservatism and advocacy for the military.

Schmitt’s victory is also a blow for U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, who exerted considerable political capital to endorse Hartzler.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Copyright 2022 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Since entering the world of professional journalism in 2006, Jason Rosenbaum dove head first into the world of politics, policy and even rock and roll music. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Rosenbaum spent more than four years in the Missouri State Capitol writing for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri Lawyers Media and the St. Louis Beacon. Since moving to St. Louis in 2010, Rosenbaum's work appeared in Missouri Lawyers Media, the St. Louis Business Journal and the Riverfront Times' music section. He also served on staff at the St. Louis Beacon as a politics reporter. Rosenbaum lives in Richmond Heights with with his wife Lauren and their two sons.