(Missouri Independent) – Roy Blunt’s decision not to seek a third term in the U.S. Senate will have cascading effects across Missouri’s political universe.
The state has no shortage of ambitious Republican officials, each of whom can make a legitimate claim at being the strongest candidate.
So will the 2022 GOP primary turn into a feeding frenzy? Or can one candidate clear the field?
Most Republicans look back warily at 2012 when the Senate primary turned into a three-way scrum and opened the door for Todd Akin to squeak out a win — only to be crushed three months later by Democrat Claire McCaskill.
Here’s a rundown of the names being bandied about in the hours after Blunt’s announcement.
10. Mike Parson
It would be strange for Missouri’s governor, who is fresh from a 17-percentage-point victory last year, not to be on a list of possible Senate candidates.
And to be sure, his name has come up in discussions.
But it seems highly unlikely the 65-year-old former sheriff will take the plunge.
In fact, last year Parson indicated his gubernatorial campaign would be his last for any office.
“I’ve been very blessed to have the career I’ve had,” he told reporters. “I think we’re on the right track. I’ve been around long enough to say, ‘never say never.’ But I’d say the First Lady might say never if she was here.”
9. Scott Fitzpatrick
The 33-year old from Shell Knob was appointed state treasurer in 2019 after rising through the ranks of the Missouri House to become chairman of the powerful Budget Committee.
His name has been mentioned as a possible candidate but is considered far more likely to show up on the ballot next year challenging Democratic State Auditor Nicole Galloway.
8. Carl Edwards
The retired NASCAR driver grew up in Columbia, and he was floated as a potential candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2017.
When contacted about a possible run by the Associated Press at the time, Edwards said, “I believe firmly in the principles that the U.S. was founded upon. If I could help, I definitely would consider it.”
He never joined the race, and chatter about his political future died down.
But that chatter has been rekindled following Blunt’s announcement, though whether or not he’s interested remains unclear.
7. Ann Wagner
In 2017, Wagner was considered her party’s likely nominee to take on then-Sen. Claire McCaskill
Then Josh Hawley, less than a year after being elected Missouri Attorney General, joined the race and essentially forced Wagner out.
In 2018 and 2020, Wagner won re-election in her suburban St. Louis district despite tough political headwinds and well-funded Democratic opponents. She’s also a prolific fundraiser with deep ties to the party’s establishment, going back to her time as U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg under President George W. Bush and co-chair of the Republican National Committee.
Wagner released a statement saying she plans to “discuss with my family what the future holds for me in the coming days.”
6. John Brunner
In 2012, John Brunner spent around $8 million of his own money seeking the GOP nomination for Senate — only to lose out to Todd Akin.
Four years later, he dropped another $6 million to run in a crowded Republican gubernatorial primary, falling short once again.
Brunner, who made his money heading the health and beauty supply company Vi-Jon, is once again being discussed as a possible candidate. He’s made no public statements, but sources close to him say he’s taking a serious look at joining the 2022 race.
5. Mike Kehoe
A former two-term state senator, Kehoe was appointed to serve as lieutenant governor in 2018 when Parson moved to the governor’s office following the resignation of Eric Greitens.
He won a full term last year, easily beating his Democratic opponent by nearly 600,000 votes.
Kehoe is considered a strong fundraiser and political dealmaker, dating back to his time as majority leader of the state Senate. He also has name ID across swaths of Missouri thanks to years owning a chain of car dealerships.
But while he has run a successful statewide campaign, the lieutenant governor’s office is not a particularly high-profile perch from which to launch a Senate campaign.
Shortly after Blunt’s announcement, Kehoe released a statement making it clear he’s considering a run.
4. Jason Smith
Smith has served in Congress representing Missouri’s bootheel since 2013. He was originally seen as a favorite of the tea party movement and eventually became among the most outspoken supporters of former President Donald Trump.
With his movement-conservative bona fides, southeast Missouri political base, and the relationship he’s built over the last four years with Trump and his family, Smith would be a formidable candidate in a GOP primary.
And he’s started making noise behind the scenes about joining the race.
Several GOP operatives said they believe Smith could even score the coveted Trump endorsement, which in a Missouri primary would be a gamechanger.
Smith tweeted Monday that he was “truly humbled by the outreach from Missourians interested in ensuring Missouri continues to have a strong voice in the United States Senate.”
3. Eric Greitens
The list of scandals that forced Eric Greitens from the Missouri Governor’s Office in 2018 is long and varied.
He was accused of violent sexual misconduct during a 2015 affair, including allegations that took a partially nude photo of the woman against her will while she was blindfolded and bound in order to blackmail her into silence. The felony charge that stemmed from that allegation was eventually dropped by Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who cited statutes of limitation that had or were about to pass and potentially missing evidence.
He was accused of stealing a donor list from a veteran’s charity he founded in order to boost his political career — a felony charge that was dropped as part of a plea deal that stipulated prosecutors had “sufficient evidence” to bring his case to trial.
But over the last year, Greitens has worked to repair his image, arguing that he was exonerated in interviews with conservative media and on his own talk show running on a fledgling news channel. He usually compares his plight to that of Trump, calling his prosecution and near impeachment by a GOP-dominated legislature a “witch hunt” and decrying the political insiders he blames for his downfall.
Greitens maintains enough support among the party’s base that many believe he could emerge from a crowded primary.
But one former Greitens adviser told The Independent Monday afternoon that the former governor may be the only potential candidate who is actually hurt by Blunt’s decision to bow out.
“He wanted to run against a ‘career politician’ whose entire family are lobbyists,” the former adviser said. “Blunt was his perfect foil. Now that’s out the window.”
2. Eric Schmitt
Missouri’s attorney general has made it no secret he’d like to join the U.S. Senate someday.
In 2017, as Hawley was publicly waffling about whether to enter the race against McCaskill, Schmitt traveled to Washington, D.C., to discuss the race with leaders of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Schmitt cut a moderate political profile during his two terms as a state Senator from St. Louis County. As Missouri’s politics turned a deeper shade of red over the last decade, Schmitt’s appears to have evolved right along with it.
In 2016, he was elected state treasurer, and in 2018 was appointed attorney general after Hawley won his U.S. Senate seat.
Last year, Schmitt filed a lawsuit against the Chinese government accusing it of lying and covering up the danger posed by the coronavirus. He later joined the legal effort to overturn President Joe Biden’s wins in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
The lawsuits gave Schmitt a national platform, scoring him interviews on Fox News and other conservative outlets.
He’s not up for re-election again until 2024, meaning even if he ran for Senate and lost he’d have an office to return to.
1. Jay Ashcroft
Most political observers in Missouri think the 2022 GOP Senate primary could be Jay Ashcroft’s to lose.
If he wants it.
The Ashcroft name still carries a lot of weight in the Show-Me State. His dad, John, served as Missouri governor, U.S. Senate, and U.S. Attorney General. And Jay, who appears on the ballot as “John R. (Jay) Ashcroft,” has proven to be a vote-getter himself, winning by big margins in his successful runs for Secretary of State in 2016 and 2020.
In fact, his supporters note he garnered more votes in 2020 than any other candidate in Missouri — including Trump.
But the going theory, before Blunt’s announcement, was Ashcroft was looking at the 2024 governor’s race when Parson will be barred from running again because of term limits.
For his part, Ashcroft released a statement that he was considering joining the Senate race.