As he faces GOP attacks, Greitens takes campaign against ‘RINOs’ to Jefferson County
ARNOLD — In the midst of fielding questions from a crowd in the back of a Jefferson County restaurant Monday night, former Gov. Eric Greitens took a relatively straightforward query: Why should people vote for you instead of your Republican opponents?
The U.S. Senate hopeful had a simple answer: “Trust your gut.”
“We’ve gone through this entire campaign and don’t think we’ve had to mention the names of our opponents once. Maybe once. Maybe twice in the entire campaign,” Greitens told a packed crowd Monday in Arnold. “Because we’re focused on love. We’re focused on courage. We’re focused on the truth. And we’re focused on taking our country back.”
One week after releasing a web and TV ad in which he and people dressed as soldiers storm a house hunting so-called RINOs (an acronym for "Republican in name only"), Greitens has been the subject of bipartisan condemnation — as well as a new political action committee spending millions of dollars against him.
“If you want to beat RINOs, you beat them at the ballot box. To say that you’re going to go hunting RINOs is beyond the pale in my opinion,” said U.S. Rep. Billy Long of Springfield, one of the six major GOP contenders for the U.S. Senate.
For the most part, Greitens has shrugged off the criticism and stuck with a key campaign theme that he’s willing to fight against Republicans who betray conservative values. His remarks on Monday also showcased his departure from some in the GOP, including his opposition to providing money to help Ukraine fight Russia’s invasion and his intention to vote against Sen. Mitch McConnell remaining as minority leader if he's elected.
He also chastised President Joe Biden for many of his policies, including his withdrawal from Afghanistan and his management of the economy. He lambasted COVID-19 vaccine mandates and a decision in 2021 by the Missouri General Assembly to increase the state’s gas tax.
After he finished shaking hands and taking pictures with well-wishers, Greitens reiterated in an interview that the RINO hunting ad did not condone violence against political opponents.
“It’s a metaphor for taking on the RINOs who continue to stab the people of America in the back,” Greitens said.
Some of Greitens’ opponents have noted that he isn’t a good messenger to be lecturing Republicans on ideological purity, since he used to be a Democrat and he issued executive orders regarding paid family leave and prescription drug monitoring programs as governor that received criticism from conservatives. Greitens dismissed those points.
“One of the things that’s striking is you see here lots of policy questions,” he said. “By contrast what you see from our opponents and political commentators is all of this nonsense.”
Leading in the polls — but facing more attacks
While Missouri is a notoriously difficult state to poll, Greitens has consistently led in most polls — and is drawing crowds across the state.
But Greitens is not just encountering opposition over viral web videos.
He made scores of enemies among both parties before and after he resigned as governor, including GOP U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, who endorsed U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler for Senate. He resigned in 2018 during a scandal around an extramarital affair and campaign finance questions.
During a question-and-answer session, a reporter asked Greitens why he decided to resign, to which he replied, “For me at that time that’s the thing I had to do for my sons.”
Greitens is locked in a contentious child custody case with his ex-wife, in which she accused him of abuse against her and their son — allegations he’s denied. During a court hearing in Columbia last week, Sheena Greitens’ attorney Helen Wade said his ad has led to her client receiving death threats. Wade asked Greitens to personally condemn threats against Sheena Greitens.
When asked if he would condemn attacks on his ex-wife, Greitens said: “Of course.”
“I don’t want anyone threatening anyone,” Greitens said. “I hope that we get back to a place where we can have thoughtful, kind, compassionate, clear conversations.”
Tim Seidenstricker, an Arnold city councilman and a longtime friend of Greitens, said there’s a perception among the former governor’s supporters that the attacks against him are unfair.
“Most people who hold office or run for office have many detractors,” Seidenstricker said. “And for someone like Gov. Greitens to have come through a lot of the criticism he’s received throughout the years and to still do very well in the polls, he obviously has something to offer to the people that resonates with them.”
Missouri voters will head to the polls to select candidates for the U.S. Senate on Aug. 2.
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum