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Eric Schmitt wins contentious Missouri GOP Senate primary

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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt waves to the crowd alongside his daughter Sophia, wife Jaime, and youngest daughter Olivia, on Tuesday at the Westport Sheraton Chalet in Maryland Heights. Schmitt held off former Gov. Eric Greitens and Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler to win the Republican nomination for Missouri's open U.S. Senate seat.

Attorney General Eric Schmitt emerged victorious in a crowded GOP primary for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, securing a prime position to succeed Roy Blunt in the fall.

Schmitt had 45.6% of the vote as of late Tuesday with nearly final results in. Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler came in second with 22% and former Gov. Eric Greitens finished third with 18.9%

“I'm going to Washington to fight for working families, defeat socialism, and lead the fight to save America,” Schmitt said to supporters in Maryland Heights.

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Other major contenders in the race included Congressman Billy Long, attorney Mark McCloskey and Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, who all failed to crack the top tier of candidates.

Schmitt first burst onto the state political scene in 2008, when he captured a state Senate seat that included portions of St. Louis County. He was elected state treasurer in 2016 and was appointed attorney general in 2018. He won a full term to that post in 2020.

During the campaign, Schmitt honed in on his actions as attorney general which included filing scores of lawsuits against President Joe Biden’s policies and against COVID-19 restrictions. He appeared in one ad with an actual blowtorch promising to “take a blowtorch” to Biden’s agenda.

“Now is the time to unify in this fight against the radical progressives,” Schmitt said. “We are entering the most consequential decade in American history since the Civil War. The Democrats aren’t playing small ball. They're playing for keeps.”

But Schmitt’s adversaries accused him of hiding a more moderate and conciliatory record as a state senator. That includes championing a plan known as Aerotropolis which sought to better link St. Louis Lambert International Airport with China. His foes also chastised his vote to allow Smithfield, which was purchased by a Chinese company in 2013, to buy Missouri farmland.

Schmitt largely ignored those attacks, and instead pressed on a disciplined campaign that included guidance from Jeff Roe — a Missouri-born political consultant who is best known for managing Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign and for guiding Glenn Youngkin to the Virginia governor’s office.

Schmitt benefitted from an avalanche of outside money that hammered Greitens over his multitude of scandals and Hartzler over her congressional voting record. He also had backing from high-profile Republican senators, including Cruz and Utah Sen. Mike Lee — who are both held in high esteem among conservatives.

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St. Louis Public Radio
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St. Louis Public Radio
Craig Steinbruck, 41, of Kirkwood, center, cheers as Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt takes the stage after winning the GOP nomination for Missouri’s open U.S. Senate seat on Tuesday during a primary election watch party at the Westport Sheraton Chalet in Maryland Heights.

His win showcased a distinct reversal of fortune for Greitens, who led in most public opinion polls until the latter half of July. A PAC spent millions highlighting a bitter child custody dispute with his ex-wife, Sheena Greitens, who accused him of abuse. Greitens denied those allegations.

Schmitt’s victory follows the playbook Greitens used in 2016 to win: Benefitting from millions of dollars worth of spending from outside groups.

Greitens did not offer a formal concession at his Chesterfield watch party Tuesday night, but told his supporters he was “proud” of them and told them to go home.

Former Gov Eric Greitens gives his concession speech during the in Missouri’s Primary election on Tuesday August 2, 2022 at his watch party in Chesterfield MO.
Theo Welling
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Special to St. Louis Public Radio
Eric Greitens, former Missouri Governor, gives his concession speech in the race for Missouri's open U.S. Senate seat on Tuesday Aug. 2, 2022, at a campaign watch party in Chesterfield, Mo.

“You fought lies with love. You fought fear with faith. And you fought cruelty with compassion,” Greitens said. “I am going to continue to work for you, continue to fight for you — to serve you — every single day of my life.”

Both Greitens and Schmitt were beneficiaries of an unusual dual endorsement from former President Donald Trump. After getting lobbied heavily for his backing for well over a year, Trump ended up endorsing ‘ERIC’ on Monday — prompting both men to claim the blessing of a political figure who is wildly popular with Missouri Republicans.

The Senate results also likely ends Hartzler’s political career, which began as a state representative in the 1990s. She represented Missouri’s 4th Congressional District for 12 years, developing a reputation for social conservatism and advocacy for the military.

“While the results didn't go our way, we could be proud of the race that we ran,” Hartzler said at an election night event in Kansas City. “And I'm so grateful.”

Schmitt’s victory is also a blow for U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, who exerted considerable political capital to endorse Hartzler.

Schmitt will take on Trudy Busch Valentine, who prevailed in one of the most contentious Democratic primaries for the U.S. Senate in decades.

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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt speaks to the media after stumping on why he should be Missouri’s next U.S. Senator on Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, during a campaign stop the day before the state’s primary election in Washington, Mo.

Before Valentine was declared the winner of the Democratic primary, Schmitt sought to compare his family’s roots to the Anheuser Busch heir’s wealth.

Analysis: Breaking down the results of the Missouri primary elections
Jason Rosenbaum, Rachel Lippmann and UMSL political scientist Anita Manion dig into the results from Missouri’s primary elections and share insight on what’s likely in store for the general election in November.

“I worked at Grant's Farm while in college, giving tours and taking out the trash,” Schmitt said. “And don't we need a little bit more of that in Washington right now. Ladies and gentlemen, I don't come from billions. I come from Bridgeton. I'm proud of my working class roots.”

Independent John Wood is also expected to be on the November ballot, and he’ll likely have millions of dollars at his disposal thanks to his association with former U.S. Sen. John Danforth.

"John Wood's independent candidacy gives each Missouri voter a chance to answer two questions:  Are you satisfied with the state of politics? And if you aren't satisfied, how can you make this better?” Danforth said in a statement.

Democrats will face an uphill battle piecing together a coalition that links urban, suburban and rural voters together — especially if the November general election is a good one for the national GOP.

Kavahn Mansouri of the Midwest Newsroom and Rachel Schnelle of KCUR contributed information to this story

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

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