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Missouri Republicans Craft Messages They Hope Lead To Statewide Sweep In 2022

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Missouri Republicans gathered in Kansas City over the weekend for the party's annual Lincoln Days celebration.

KANSAS CITY — In some respects, Missouri Republicans are the mirror image of national politics: The GOP controls most of Missouri’s statewide offices and has commanding majorities in the legislature, while in the nation’s capitol Republicans are on the outside looking in, with Democrats holding the presidency and both houses of Congress.

But Missouri Republican Party Chairman Nick Meyers contends that the state’s GOP activists shouldn’t get too cocky.

“It wasn’t that long ago when our sole statewide officeholder was Peter Kinder,” said Meyers, referring to part of Kinder’s tenure as lieutenant governor from 2009 to 2017. “We will not be complacent, nor should we be complacent.”

Making sure the party is on a solid footing going into the 2022 election cycle was a prime topic of discussion at the 2021 Lincoln Days event over the weekend in Kansas City. The soiree is the biggest event of the year for Missouri Republicans and is often a chance for some of the party’s most dedicated members to chat and socialize with elected officials.

After a 2020 election cycle that saw Republicans dominate statewide, congressional and state legislative races, GOP officials seek to hold onto a U.S. Senate seat that Sen. Roy Blunt is vacating — and prevail in a now-open race for the state auditor’s office. They’re also trying to maintain their majorities in the General Assembly.

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Conservative author David Limbaugh gives a tribute to his brother Rush Limbaugh on Friday at Lincoln Days in Kansas City.

Some Republicans at Lincoln Days believe that they may be at an advantage, since the president’s party typically doesn’t do well during midterm elections. Conservative commentator and author David Limbaugh said during his Friday night keynote address that Republicans need to aggressively contrast their vision for the nation with that of Democrats — or risk not seizing the opportunity to gain ground in Congress.

“They are the opposite of what we stand for,” said Limbaugh, brother of the late radio host Rush Limbaugh. “They want to throw government money at every conceivable problem. They don’t believe in entrepreneurialism. They don’t believe in the American people digging themselves out from their own bootstraps.

“They want to control everything and spend their way out of everything,” he added. “And it’s never worked.”

U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, said, “Democrats are doing a really good job at being so radical, they’re the ones alienating the general public.” Numerous speakers spoke out against critical race theory, which examines how race and racism influence politics, culture and legal systems, or using lesson materials such as the New York Times’ 1619 Project.

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, talks to an attendee on Saturday at Lincoln Days in Kansas City.

Smith pointed to how President Joe Biden used the term “birthing person” instead of mothers in a budgetary proposal. That term emphasizes how nonbinary people and transgender men can also give birth.

“They spend too much time trying to focus on words, because they’re trying to cover up their inaction of this administration,” Smith said. “Missourians, they look at actions — not words.”

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley doesn’t think that critiquing the Democratic Party’s approach to race and gender issues will alienate voters who are amenable to LGBTQ rights or closing gaps between white and Black people.

“This isn’t about closing racial disparities, which we should do. There’s no question about that. And that’s been a proud legacy of this country and proud work that we pursue together,” Hawley said. “I just think when it comes to this critical theory, it is incredibly, incredibly divisive.”

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley adjusts the microphone during his speech on Friday at Lincoln Days in Kansas City.

Hawley receives warm reception

Hawley was arguably the biggest draw among the Republican faithful over the week. On Saturday morning, a long line of people waited to have Hawley autograph his new book, "The Tyranny of Big Tech." And the state party passed a resolution supporting Hawley.

Hawley also received a rousing ovation late Friday for a speech that mentioned his objection to Biden’s Electoral College wins in Pennsylvania and Arizona. Hawley was the first senator to announce he would challenge Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania, a decision that received increased scrutiny after the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“Since Jan. 6, our friends on the left and in the liberal media have tried to investigate me, censure me, expel me. I mean, you name it — they’ve tried to do it,” Hawley said. “I mean it’s been quite a ride, but I’m here to tell you this: It’s been one of the best years of our life, and I am not going anywhere.”

Later in his speech, Hawley said the U.S. was “on the verge of a renewal in this country the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades — maybe in more of a century.” He went on to say that “the question is ‘Do you believe it?’”

“The American people are getting an up-close look at a radical, secular, leftist agenda,” Hawley said. “And they are saying, ‘This is not what we want for our children.’ They are saying, ‘This is not what we want for our families.’ 'This is not what we want for our communities.' And they are ready for something better. And they are ready for something different.”

Attorney General Eric Schmitt said he’s not surprised that attendees at Lincoln Days still support Hawley.

“Senator Hawley has done a great job, and people recognize that across the state,” Schmitt said. “And it’s recognition right now that Missourians want fighters right now in Washington, D.C.”

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, speaks with a reporter on Saturday at Lincoln Days in Kansas City. Hartzler jumped into the 2022 contest to succeed Sen. Roy Blunt.

Crowded U.S. Senate race

Schmitt was one of three announced U.S. Senate candidates who traveled to Kansas City for Lincoln Days. Also attending were U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartlzer and St. Louis attorney Mark McCloskey. Former Gov. Eric Greitens skipped the event and instead traveled to Arizona.

“I’ve won statewide a couple of times,” Schmitt said. “I’ve gotten around the state. People have gotten to know me. And I think my record as being a lifelong conservative, fighting alongside President Trump for the America First agenda — that record is very clear.”

Hartzler, who jumped into the race late last week, said she brings plenty of advantages to the race, including being the only announced candidate who is not from St. Louis. Her 4th Congressional District includes central, southwest and western Missouri — places with large numbers of GOP primary voters.

“I feel like I’m the best person to really fight and speak for Missouri,” Hartzler said. “People know me around this district. They know I listen. I care. I get things done.”

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
U.S. Rep. Billy Long, R-Springfield, speaks with attendees on Friday at Lincoln Days in Kansas City.

But at least two potential Senate candidates were also on hand: U.S. Reps. Jason Smith, R-Salem, and Billy Long, R-Springfield. Both congressmen have strong ties to former President Donald Trump, and have spoken with him about next year’s Senate contest. U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, who did not attend Lincoln Days, also is mulling a U.S. Senate bid.

Long, though, said that his decision on getting into the contest isn’t contingent on whether he gets Trump’s endorsement. Rather, he said, “the only way I get in the race is if I can win.” He said it’s possible that Trump may stay neutral — or “shock the world” by picking a candidate similarly to how he backed U.S. Rep. Ted Budd in North Carolina.

“If I get in, I’m going to be in every single county,” Long said. “I outworked everyone for the first time in 2010. I had an eight-way primary. So I have pretty good experience in a big field.”

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
U.S. Senate candidate Mark McCloskey and his wife, Patty, speak with attendees on Saturday at Lincoln Days in Kansas City.

Smith said he’s not on any timetable to announce whether he’s going to run for the U.S. Senate — and added that he’s not hesitating because he could become House Budget chairman should he run for re-election and the Republicans retake the House.

“If I get in, I won’t lose,” Smith said. “I will win if I get in. And I have no rush to decide.”

McCloskey said his lack of electoral experience could be asset in a contest that could include lots of people with lengthy political resumes. McCloskey and his wife gained national attention when they were photographed pointing guns at people demonstrating against then-St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson.

“My decision to join the ranks of civil servants is 22 days old,” McCloskey said. “So I can’t be more of an outsider than that.”

For his part, Hawley said that he wasn’t concerned about fears among some Republicans that a crowded U.S. Senate field could make it easier for someone like Greitens to win. Hawley and Greitens have long had an acrimonious relationship, most notably when Hawley called for Greitens to step down amid scandal in 2018.

“We want a person who is a strong conservative. A person of integrity. A person who understands Missouri. And who has great hope for the future and can win in November,” Hawley said. “We’ve got almost a year till the filing deadline. We have a lot of time in this race. I think we’ll see a lot of people think about it. Some people who say they’re interested now will probably say they’re not interested later. So we’ll see. There will be a lot of movement.”

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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