Missouri U.S. Senate Race 2022: An early look

Everyone hates Congress, yet somehow everyone loves their Congressman.

“Open” Congressional and U.S. Senate seats are rare, as re-election rates are somewhere north of 90%. So when an odd opening does occur for these more or less lifetime positions, a mad scramble ensues. One might even compare it to chumming the water. (We’re gonna need a bigger ballot.) Or, an orgy.

About twelve days ago, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri set off just such an orgiastic frenzy when he announced that he would not run again in 2022. Speculation immediately began as to who might replace him. Wikipedia already has a nice little page dedicated to the race, chronicling who’s in and who’s out.

As Missouri is now a fairly solid red state, most of the chatter is on the Republican side. Everyone expects a knock down, drag out primary fight. I will break down the contenders and throw a little shade while I’m at it.

GOP Maybe In:

Eric Greitens

The most interesting (and most aggravating) name in the mix. The Icarus of Show Me State politics, his rise and fall are well known tales. I’ve never been a fan.

(Did you know that he was a Navy SEAL? It’s kind of hard to miss, since he brings it up all the time.)

He is an obviously intelligent guy, but his naked ambition was always unnerving, and his 2016 gubernatorial campaign pandered to morons. That campaign was intensely shallow, complete with the infamous “I’m shooting up a field for no reason” ad that fouled our airwaves. The entire campaign was basically “I’m America’s Number One Navy SEAL® and I’m a conservative outsider, so vote for me or I’ll kick your ass!” Light on issues, heavy on machismo.

Missouri voters ate it up. In the primary, he beat three Republicans with impressive resumes (Lt. Governor Peter Kinder, former Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, and businessman John Brunner.) In the general, he took down the mostly harmless Robert Redford lookalike, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster.

Ego thus satisfied (for the moment), he swaggered into the governor’s mansion and almost immediately began burning bridges and stepping on his own d*ck.

About that: first came the allegation that he had taken an illicit photograph of his bound paramour without her consent. Among other things. Then came the charge that he had misused a donor list related to one of his charities. In one of the most “I wish both sides could lose” battles ever, he mixed it up with St. Louis circuit attorney Kim Gardner. Things didn’t really go well for Gardner either. (In a perfect world, those two would be stranded on a desert island together. They really deserve each other.)

Ultimately, he resigned while maintaining his innocence and claiming victimhood status. His wife, clearly the real intellectual in the family, split and ended up leaving Missouri altogether.

Listen to this phone call between then-candidate Greitens and primary rival John Brunner and tell me that this person belongs in any position of authority. Check out this glory hound rappeling from the rafters of an arena during a rodeo. (Gotta give him credit for knowing his target audience. When it comes to bread and circuses, he definitely had the circuses part down pat.)

Even the Navy didn’t seem to know what to do with him when he wanted to come back. But come back he did, with an assist from Vice President Pence.

Even before Blunt announced his upcoming retirement, Greitens had launched a bit of a political comeback tour at Blunt’s expense. Just weeks before Blunt dropped his official bombshell, Greitens was attacking him for being—get this—insufficiently pro-Trump. That’s right, Sen. Blunt, who had voted to acquit the Ol’ Trumpler in both of his impeachment trials and carried a lifetime 85.58% rating from the American Conservative Union in 2019, somehow didn’t kiss enough orange ass to satisfy The Elvis of Navy SEALs©.

The dangers of a Greitens senatorial run are best summed up here. While I do think that “Mr. Greitens Goes to Washington” would have a certain amount of entertainment value, I don’t think it’s worth the risk. If he got into this much trouble in Missouri, what sort of shenanigans might he fall into in D.C.?

Greitens delenda est.

Lt. Governor Mike Kehoe

Who is this guy? Nobody knows, which as lieutenant governor, is totally the point.

Remember the Great Missouri Statewide Office Shuffle of 2018? Greitens resigns as Governor. Parson becomes Governor. Parson appoints State Sen. Kehoe as Lieutenant Governor. Smarmy ladder-climbing Josh Hawley leaves the Attorney General’s office to become U.S. Senator. Parson appoints then-Treasurer Eric Schmitt to be Attorney General, and then appoints State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick as Treasurer. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Auditor Nicole Galloway don’t go anywhere and just watch in bewilderment.

Did anyone (besides Parson, obviously) benefit from all that more than Kehoe? Yet I could run into him around town and have no idea who he is.

Attorney General Eric Schmitt

This gentleman probably has the most solid resume of all the statewide office holders. If Greitens doesn’t get in the race and Schmitt does, I imagine he’ll be the favorite.

Rep. Ann Wagner

Her last two elections have been closer than they probably needed to be, but don’t count out her blond ambition. She has a lot of friends in high places.

Rep. Jason Smith

This is my Congressman and I honestly don’t know how. With his dead fish personality, persistent flop sweat, low energy demeanor, and a voice that sounds weirdly similar to Hermey’s from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, he seems like an unlikely hero for outstate Missouri. He’s tried to butch things up in recent years with flannel shirts, blue jeans, and even a beard, but it just doesn’t feel right. Throw in his connections to disgraced former Congressman Aaron Schock and a lot of things just don’t add up. Yet, here he is.

But underestimate Congressman Hermey at your own peril. In the most amazing feat of combat since The Bride fought her way out of The House of Blue Leaves in Kill Bill, lowly (at the time) State Representative Smith fought off an impressive squad of challengers to win this seat in 2013. Thanks to Rep. Jo Ann Emerson’s mid-term “retirement” to take a cushy corporate job right after she was re-elected, the seat was thrown open. In a situation kind of similar to today’s Senate race, nearly every prominent Republican from the Eighth District turned out for the seat.

The nomination was to be decided by the Eighth District Republican Committee, which was tantamount to election since the district is so red. Smith held enough sway on this committee to beat one sitting statewide officeholder (Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder), two former statewide officeholders (former state treasurers Wendell Bailey and Sarah Steelman), several other sitting or former state representatives and state senators, and some other random folks just for good measure. As Darth Vader would say: “Impressive. Most impressive.”

While I sometimes wonder who will finally come forward with some juicy kompromat on Smith someday, it seems possible that he held some juicy kompromat on a lot of other people eight years ago.

If this U.S. Senate race came down to Greitens vs. Smith on the GOP side, it’s not hard to imagine Greitens giving the testosterone-deficient Smith a wedgie on the debate stage. Greitens will probably challenge him to a posedown and then steal his lunch money just for good measure. Smith’s only hope might be to counter with a slap fight.

Seriously though… as weird as this dude is, he has some political chops. Anything could happen.

Still— I would pay real money to hear Rep. Smith say “Well, sir, some day, I’d like to be a…a dentist!” just once.

John Brunner

There’s a lot to like about Brunner; he’s probably the closest thing to a libertarian you’ll find in this piece. Alas, I fear that Missouri may be suffering from Brunner Fatigue, as he spent quite a bit of money in the 2012 U.S. Senate race and the 2016 Missouri governor’s race and didn’t get out of the primaries in either.

GOP Definitely Out:

Ashcroft the Lesser

A darned shame, actually, and I say that as someone who ran against him in 2016. He’s kind of boring, but he’s an adult and stays out of trouble. You’ll never have to worry about him defrauding a charity or tying up his hairdresser. He doesn’t have his dad’s fire and brimstone tendencies, but that’s maybe not a bad thing.

Peter Kinder

It seems Cape Girardeau’s favorite son (since his friend Rush Limbaugh died, anyway), former state senator, and former three term (!) Lieutenant Governor is too sane to run for statewide office again in post-Trump Missouri. That’s too bad, because like Ashcroft the Lesser, he’s a level-headed, deliberate adult.

Similar to Smith, there was a lot of chatter about Peter over the years, as tends to happen when a man reaches a certain age and is still a bachelor. The worst thing that ever came out, however, was that he was apparently a strip club aficionado back in the nineties.

Well, that just makes me like him more. It’s kind of amazing, in retrospect, that I never ran into him over there.

Governor Mike Parson

It should really be no surprise that our current governor has no interest in running for the U.S. Senate in 2022. He barely seemed to have any interest in running for governor in 2020, and won anyway.

I don’t say that as an insult, either. It’s refreshing to have an officeholder who really doesn’t seem to want to be there. Good for him. And us.

GOP Wild Cards:

Whatever happened to Catherine Hanaway? Blunt the Lesser? (Remember when he was governor? Most folks don’t either.) Former Senator Jim Talent?

You know what, never mind Talent. He somehow lost statewide races to both “One Term Bob” Holden and Claire McCaskill.

Dems Maybe In:

Auditor Nicole Galloway

As Missouri’s only remaining statewide Democratic officeholder, she’s automatically in the conversation. However, similar to Brunner Fatigue, Missourians may be tired of her. She just got shellacked in the most recent governor’s race against a guy who again didn’t really seem to want to be there. How she would fare against a more aggressive Republican opponent is highly questionable.

Lucas Kunce

I’m not gonna try to bullshit my way through this one. I don’t know much about him.

Scott Sifton

I don’t know much about this cat either.

Dems Definitely Out:

Claire McCaskill

Our former U.S. Senator, formerly blessed with electoral luck in weak electoral foes Jim Talent and Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin, wants no part of Missouri politics anymore. And who could blame her?

Jason Kander

Our former Secretary of State’s claim to fame is narrowly losing to Roy Blunt in the 2016 U.S. Senate election. He joined a weird pantheon of Democrats who were worshiped for losing races in red states. Think Wendy Davis,  Stacey Abrams, Jon Ossoff (2017 House race, anyway), Alison Lundergan Grimes, Amy McGrath, and whoever else runs against Mitch McConnell in 2026, 2032, 2038, 2044, 2050, and 2056.

Dem Wild Cards:

Why not dig up a centrist, popular Democrat with a history of winning statewide elections? Like Jay Nixon? (After all, Jay ran for the U.S. Senate twice before in 1988 and 1998. Don’t tell me he doesn’t still think about it.)

What are Chris Koster and his magnificent head of hair up to these days?

Is it too soon to make a “Why not run Mel Carnahan again” joke? I mean, that whole thing did work twenty-one years ago.

Libertarian Party maybe in, definitely out, and wild cards

The LP situation is still developing.

Constitution Party maybe in, definitely out, and wild cards

Are these folks still around? Isn’t the GOP largely paleoconservative these days anyway? What’s the point?

Green Party maybe in, definitely out, and wild cards

Even more developing. As they recently lost their Missouri ballot access, it’s gonna be a tough row to hoe regardless.

Bottom line:

The race will be the Republicans’ to lose. I see some danger if they nominate Greitens and he self-destructs (as he is wont to do), or if he doesn’t self-destruct but the Democrats counter with an old hand like Nixon or Koster. Literally any other Republican should have smooth sailing.

I think I’ve firmly established myself in the “anybody but Greitens” camp. Thirty years of him in the upper chamber could be more than my heart could bear. Or, my liver.

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