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Independent candidate John Wood drops from U.S. Senate race in Missouri

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Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
John Wood was running as an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Citing the demise of former Gov. Eric Greitens’ campaign, John Wood announced on Tuesday that he was ending his U.S. Senate bid.

Wood was a U.S. attorney for western Missouri in the late 2000s. He jumped into the Missouri Senate race as an independent candidate while the large Republican field included Greitens. Backed by a political action committee that was spending millions on broadcast advertisements, Wood gathered enough signatures to appear on the November ballot.

But earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Schmitt soundly defeated the field, including Greitens, who many Republicans feared would lose a general election due to a multitude of scandals. And in a statement, Wood pointed to that result as a reason for departing the race.

“Circumstances have changed. While I think I could have beaten Eric Greitens, Missouri no longer faces the risk of Greitens as our next U.S. Senator,” Wood said in a statement. “While I have significant differences of opinion with both the Republican and Democratic nominees, it has become evident there is not a realistic path to victory for me as an independent candidate.”

The move is a reversal for Wood, who said during a recent episode of Politically Speaking that he still felt he had a chance to stand out against Schmitt and Democrat Trudy Busch Valentine.

“The message is really the same, whether it’s Eric Schmitt or Eric Greitens,” Wood said. “They’re both divisive and extreme — and are playing to or played to a small sliver of the Republican base in order to win the nomination.”

Wood could have been a major contender for the Senate seat, primarily because of the financial support he had thanks to an endorsement from former U.S. Sen. John Danforth. Danforth, a Republican, appeared in television ads supporting Wood’s campaign.

In a statement, Danforth said he understood Wood’s decision but added he was “nevertheless disappointed, and I think Missouri voters ought to be as well.”

“Once again, they are left with no good options,” Danforth said. “It is John who best understands that our politics – in Missouri and across the country – have lurched down a terrible path and become toxic. We have reached a point in our country where political views turn family members against family members, friends against friends; where people with different views are seen as enemies to be hated and even fought rather than as simply fellow Americans with different perspectives.”

Wood also faced criticism, especially among Republicans, about how he moved back to Missouri from Washington, D.C., to run for the seat. In the Politically Speaking interview, Wood acknowledged that he hadn’t lived in Missouri since the end of President George W. Bush’s administration in 2009 — but added that voters are more concerned with issues like inflation or the denial among Republicans that President Joe Biden won the election.

Wood, who served on the U.S. House committee investigating the attack on the Capitol before announcing his Senate bid, alluded to his criticism of Republican election denialism in his statement.

“Many Missourians, as well as Americans across the country, have expressed their support for the noble causes of uniting our Country, defending democracy and protecting our Constitution,” Wood said. “While my candidacy is ending, my commitment to these causes endures. I will continue to work in other ways to promote these causes, which are dear to my heart.”

Impact on the November election

Wood faced the challenge of breaking through in a statewide election as an independent candidate.

Missouri does not have a long tradition of supporting anyone but Republicans or Democrats for statewide office. In fact, the best performance by a third-party candidate in recent memory was Libertarian Jonathan Dine’s 2012 Senate run — in which he got 6% of the vote as Republicans abandoned GOP nominee Todd Akin’s doomed campaign against Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.

"Third party candidates or independent candidates haven't taken hold in most states," said University of Missouri-St. Louis political science professor Anita Manion. "While they can win local elections, winning a statewide election is an uphill battle. And part of that is the infrastructure that's needed to run an election."

While Wood’s criticism of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection set him apart from other Republicans, his views on abortion rights and spending policies don't differ. He said he would caucus with Republicans and vote for Mitch McConnell as the GOP’s Senate leader. That combination of views makes it unclear whether his presence would have hurt Schmitt or Valentine more — or if he would have been a nonfactor in the contest.

While Manion said Wood had a more robust financial presence than most third party candidates, she added that his appeal diminished when Greitens lost the GOP primary.

"The folks who make the rules about elections are Republicans and Democrats," Manion said. "Thus, it's not easy for someone who's not in one of those two parties to win."

In a statement, Valentine said she “remain(s) the only candidate who can’t be bought and am solely focused on addressing the real issues that matter to people, including protecting a woman’s freedom to make health care decisions without government mandates and opposing the sale of our farmland to foreign countries.”

"I invite any independent-minded Missourian who’s interested in defending and protecting the future of our democracy to join my campaign,” Valentine said. “I’ll be nobody’s Senator but yours.”

A message for Schmitt’s spokesman seeking reaction to Wood’s departure from the race was not immediately returned.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum  

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

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