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On the Trail, an occasional column by St. Louis Public Radio political reporter Jason Rosenbaum, takes an analytical look at politics and policy across Missouri.

Trump endorses 'Eric' in a GOP Senate primary that has two of them: Greitens and Schmitt

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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Former President Donald Trump issued his long-anticipated endorsement in Missouri’s crowded GOP primary for U.S. Senate race. By endorsing "ERIC," he implied both Eric Greitens (at left) and Eric Schmitt (at right) have his backing.

Updated at 5:40 p.m. Aug. 1 with Trump's statement

Former President Donald Trump potentially made Missouri’s wild GOP U.S. Senate primary even wilder Monday by endorsing “Eric" — in effect saying both Eric Schmitt and Eric Greitens have his backing hours before Republicans go to the polls.

080122_Trump Endorses ERIC

Without directly naming Greitens or Schmitt, Trump's statement said, "We need a person who will not back down to the radical left lunatics who are destroying our country."

"I am therefore proud to announce that ERIC has my complete and total endorsement."

Trump made his announcement on Truth Social on Monday afternoon. Several major candidates had aggressively pursued Trump’s endorsement, which could be big in a state in which the former president won by large margins twice.

Still, it remains to be seen how impactful Trump’s dual backing will be with so little time left before the voting Tuesday. Most public opinion polls show that Schmitt leads a field that includes five major rivals.

“I don’t know. It can’t hurt,” said George Miller, a Villa Ridge resident who attended a rally on Monday afternoon for Schmitt. “I think it was going to be a close race. It might make it closer.”

Before Trump issued his statement, Schmitt told reporters he would love to have the former president’s blessing. "But I think if you look at the record, I’m the America First fighter," he said, "and you got a guy in Eric Greitens who will lose the seat.”

Both Schmitt and Greitens released statements through their Twitter accounts touting Trump's endorsement. Both said that Trump called them personally.

"President Trump's message on this has been extraordinarily clear," Greitens told reporters. "I'm the MAGA champion in this race. Eric Schmitt's a RINO."

Eric Greitens, former Missouri governor and U.S. Senate candidate, praises former President Donald Trump
Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Eric Greitens, former Missouri governor and U.S. Senate candidate, praises former President Donald Trump on Aug. 1. during a campaign stop at the Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield. Trump endorsed “ERIC,” on Monday evening, declining to cite which of the three running to be Missouri’s next U.S. Senator.

'RINO' in a term used to describe Republicans who are not sufficiently conservative. Greitens gained fame, and infamy, when his campaign released an ad where he stormed a house with a gun along with people dressed as soldiers hunting RINOs.

Before he arrived at the Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield on Monday night, Greitens supporter Steve Nickel called the 'ERIC' endorsement "awesome."

"It’s what we’ve been waiting for all along," Nickel said. "But Greitens has been my man all along. I voted for him while I was governor. I believe in him."

Trump announced in July that he wasn’t going to endorse Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, who pieced together a well-funded and disciplined campaign over the past year.

In a statement reacting to the news, Hartzler said: “Congrats to Eric McElroy. He’s having a big night.” Hartzler was referring to a lesser-known 'Eric' who is also on the Republican U.S. Senate ballot.

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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt talks to Jim Middleton, 77, of St. Louis County, on Monday during a campaign stop at the Tilted Skillet Diner in Washington, Mo.

GOP Senate scramble 

Sen. Roy Blunt’s announcement that he wouldn’t seek a third term set off one of the wildest Republican primaries in recent memory.

Six major candidates emerged from a field of 21 contenders: Schmitt, Greitens and Hartzler have been at the top of most polls. The field also includes Congressman Billy Long, attorney Mark McCloskey and state Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz.

Long, McCloskey and Schatz are considered underdogs because they don’t have the financial resources of Schmitt, Hartzler or Greitens. Schmitt in particular has benefited from an avalanche of broadcast ads from outside political action committees that have attacked Hartzler and Greitens.

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Brian Munoz / St. Louis Public Radio
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St. Louis Public Radio
Former Gov. Eric Greitens speaks to a crowd on June 27 in Arnold.

Greitens’ hopes of a political comeback took a major hit when a PAC known as Show Me Values saturated TV and radio stations with ads detailing allegations of abuse from his ex-wife, Sheena Greitens. He has denied the allegations, but the ads coincided with a dive in his polling numbers.

Still, Missouri’s public polling has been wrong before, and both Greitens and Hartzler are banking on support in the state’s rural counties, where a large percentage of the state’s GOP electorate resides. Greitens in particular did well in southeast Missouri during his 2016 gubernatorial campaign, while Hartzler is the only major candidate from the western side of the state.

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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler tells prospective voters why she should be the next senator from Missouri on July 22 during a meeting of the St. Charles County Pachyderm Club in Lake Saint Louis.

Hartzler will need to overcome a public snub from former President Donald Trump, who criticized her when choosing not to endorse her last month.

Trump is wildly popular among Missouri Republicans, but some question whether his endorsement this late in the primary will matter much – especially since the campaign he backs won’t have time to broadcast the news on television or radio.

Lucas Kunce, democratic candidate for Missouri’s open U.S. Senate seat
Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Lucas Kunce, Democratic candidate for Missouri’s U.S. Senate seat, attends an abortion-rights demonstration May 3 at the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in downtown St. Louis.

Democrats in bruising primary

Democrats are engaged in the most competitive primary for a Senate seat since 1994.

Three major candidates, Trudy Busch Valentine, Lucas Kunce and Spencer Toder, are trying to convince Democratic primary voters that they should move on to the general election. That race could be competitive if Greitens wins the primary, especially since recently announced independent John Wood will have access to millions of dollars.

But a Schmitt or Hartzler win could make November a decidedly uphill battle for the Democratic nominee, since the state has trended heavily toward the GOP in recent years. National Democrats may be hesitant to invest much money or attention in the race, especially if the national environment is favorable toward the GOP.

Nevertheless, Valentine and Kunce have spent lots of money on hard-hitting television ads. Valentine is seeking to highlight some of Kunce’s political views when he ran for state representative in 2006, including opposition to abortion rights. Kunce’s campaign contends this is misleading, since his views now don’t line up to what he espoused 16 years ago.

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Bill Greenblatt
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UPI
Trudy Busch Valentine, center, gets help from St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones giving away ice cream during a fundraiser in St. Louis on Saturday.

Kunce’s ads are trying to compare his modest upbringing in Jefferson City to Valentine’s wealth. Valentine’s father is the late Anheuser-Busch chief Gussie Busch, and she’s spending millions of her own money on television ads. Kunce is also blasting Valentine’s association with the Veiled Prophet Ball, a St. Louis-based institution that’s been criticized as racially exclusionary. Valentine has apologized for her role in the ball when she was a young woman.

While not spending as much money as Kunce or Valentine, Toder gained fans among progressive voters. He’s been running ads showcasing how his campaign helped sign people up for programs like Medicaid or the child tax credit. While not spending as much money as Kunce or Valentine, Toder has put hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money into the race.

The result of this contest could come down to which candidate gets the most support among Black voters, especially in the St. Louis region. All three candidates are stressing endorsements from prominent Black leaders: Valentine has the backing of St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green, while Kunce is endorsed by former Congressman Bill Clay and Ferguson Mayor Ella Jones. Toder received an endorsement from former state Rep. Bruce Franks.

Competitive congressional, county and state legislative primaries

Other competitive contests on the ballot include:

You can read and listen to coverage of the 2022 primary in St. Louis Public Radio’s Voters Guide.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum 

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

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.