Eric Schmitt punches ticket to U.S. Senate with victory over Trudy Busch Valentine
Attorney General Eric Schmitt completed his meticulous ascent within Missouri politics with a resounding victory in the state’s U.S. Senate contest on Tuesday.
The 47-year-old St. Louis County native easily defeated Democrat Trudy Busch Valentine in a race that featured unpredictability during the primary season but not much drama in the general election thanks to Missouri’s dominant rightward trajectory. The Associated Press called the race around 9:15 p.m. with about a third of the vote counted.
Schmitt replicated the success of other statewide Republicans in recent elections by winning large majorities in rural counties as well as larger suburban areas outside Kansas City and St. Louis. While Busch Valentine did well in St. Louis and St. Louis and Jackson counties, she failed to gain ground in any other part of the state.
Compared with a wild GOP primary that featured five other major candidates, Schmitt’s contest against Busch Valentine was relatively sleepy.
While Busch Valentine, a nurse and heir to the Anheuser-Busch family fortune, spent millions of her own money on ads attacking Schmitt’s record, they were ineffective at forging the urban-suburban-rural coalition she needed to prevail. Schmitt’s campaign barely did any public events after the primary, focusing instead on social media and television advertising.
Most of Schmitt’s message post-primary involved arguing that Busch Valentine would be essentially a rubber stamp for President Joe Biden’s agenda. Schmitt made his opposition to the Democratic president a key aspect of the campaign he began in 2021, as well as his emphasis on lawsuits over a federal vaccine mandate. As attorney general he also backed lawsuits challenging Biden’s election.
Up the ladder
Schmitt is a De Smet High School graduate who went to Truman State University and St. Louis University Law School. He served on the Glendale Board of Aldermen before winning the election to the Missouri Senate in 2008.
While serving in the Senate, Schmitt earned a reputation for handling high-profile, and often complex, legislation. That included an unsuccessful effort in 2011 to establish a China hub at St. Louis Lambert International Airport — and a more fruitful bid to restrict the percentage of fines and fees cities can have in their budgets. He also played a major role in legislation that cut the state’s income taxes.
After mulling a run for attorney general, Schmitt instead won the state treasurer’s office in 2016. He served in that post for a relatively short time, as Gov. Mike Parson appointed him attorney general after Republican Josh Hawley won a U.S. Senate seat in 2018.
“Eric Schmitt has moved from success to success in state politics and is much to be admired for his many strengths,” said former Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican.
Schmitt won a full term as attorney general in 2020. During that year, he began to file provocative lawsuits that often received widespread attention — most notably his suit against China for its role in the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, he engendered controversy by suing school districts and local governments for implementing mask mandates.
Democrats accused Schmitt of grandstanding to ingratiate himself with a GOP base that became more conservative and more enamored of former President Donald Trump. Former state Sen. Scott Sifton said Schmitt’s political trajectory reminded him of a quote from French revolutionary Maximilien Robespierre: “I must follow the mob, I want to be its leader.”
“And that's no way to lead,” said Sifton, who served in student government at Truman State with Schmitt.
Kinder, though, said the accusations that Schmitt espoused more conservative views to pander to his party’s base is unfair. He said Schmitt is aligning where voters are, unlike Missouri Democrats who have been unsuccessful at pivoting to the changing political sensibilities of the state.
Schmitt will succeed Blunt, a Republican who was not only a major figure in Missouri politics but received praise from both parties for bringing back money to the state.
Unlike Hawley, who has become a major critic of Biden since he became president, Blunt also supported legislation that were priorities of the Democratic chief executive. That includes an infrastructure bill and wide-ranging legislation passed in response to shootings in Texas and New York.
“Say what you will about Roy Blunt,” Sifton said. “There are times where he has clearly approached the job through the lens of the state of Missouri as opposed to some partisan agenda or some aspirational presidential bid, which you see in a lot of U.S. senators.”
Other GOP elected officials are expecting that Schmitt, even though he’s from the St. Louis area, will deal with issues that affect rural Missouri. State Rep. Louis Riggs, R-Hannibal, noted that Blunt and Kit Bond before him were passionate about solving problems that afflicted northeast Missouri, saying “coming up and listening to folks is invaluable.”
Schmitt’s win means Parson will appoint his replacement as attorney general. Potential candidates to succeed Schmitt include Parson’s general counsel Andrew Bailey; state Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville; former U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison; Assistant U.S. Attorney Will Scharf; and former state Sen. Kurt Schaefer.
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