December 5, 2023

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The race for the Missouri Senate seat: A guide

Quick Take

In Missouri, a possible Republican nominee has spooked the party’s establishment, with some in the GOP fearing that a Democratic upset could take a seat that has been in Republican hands since 1987.

The possible nominee is former Gov. Eric Greitens. Greitens, a decorated Navy SEAL with stints in Afghanistan and Iraq, won Missouri’s governorship in 2016, but he became engrossed in scandal early in his term. 

In 2015, Greitens allegedly took a woman who was not his wife to his basement, taped her hands, blindfolded her, pulled her pants down, and took a photo without her consent. The governor denied the allegations but eventually resigned. Greitens was indicted, but the charges were dropped, and disciplinary measures were later imposed on officials who had prosecuted him.

After Greitens began running for Senate, new allegations by his ex-wife, Sheena Greitens, became public in court filings. The documents, which are part of a custody battle, alleged that the former governor had abused her and their son. The new revelations heightened concerns among some Republican officials that a winnable seat in closely divided Senate could be squandered if Greitens won the nomination.

“If Greitens wins, the general election will likely be quite competitive, because polls show that Greitens’ past record makes him very vulnerable,” said Kenneth F. Warren, a political scientist and pollster at Saint Louis University.

Missouri’s Senate seat is coming open with the retirement of Republican Sen. Roy Blunt. While conservative and often supportive of President Donald Trump, Blunt has been a member of the GOP leadership in both chambers and is now considered something of a pragmatist. 

Most polls show Greitens within the top tier of contenders. The rest of the top tier includes U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler and state Attorney General Eric Schmitt. Beyond these top three candidates are several others in the hunt: U.S. Rep. Billy Long; Mark McCloskey, who with his wife became a conservative icon after threatening Black Lives Matter marchers with guns; and state Senate President Pro-Tempore Dave Schatz.

Greitens’ hope “is to get roughly one-third of the vote in the crowded race, which might be enough to win the nomination,” said Peverill Squire, a University of Missouri political scientist. “He was on a path to achieve it. He might now fall short of that vote total, leaving an opening for one of the other candidates.”

Blunt, for his part, is staying neutral in the primary. “I am going to support the Republican nominee,” Blunt has said

While Republican candidates have essentially ignored the Democratic primary field so far, there are two major Democratic candidates running: Lucas Kunce, a veteran with service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Trudy Busch Valentine, an heiress from the St. Louis-based beer family.

Kunce has been running the longest, articulating a populist-oriented campaign. Kunce actually managed to outraise everyone else in the field, both Republican and Democratic, through Dec. 31, 2021. Shortly before the filing deadline for the primary, Kunce’s main rival, former state Sen. Scott Sifton, dropped out and endorsed Valentine, who has moved in political circles for years but has never run for office herself.

Valentine’s impact on the Democratic race is unclear, experts said. She has deep financial resources and name recognition, but for now, she is “a mystery candidate,” Squire said. “Nobody knows whether she will prove to be a strong campaigner, whether she will pump lots of her own money into the race, or even how she will position herself” ideologically. Complicating her entry into the race was the nearly immediate revelation about her participation in the Veiled Prophet Ball in 1977, a tradition among the St. Louis elite that has been accused of racism. (Valentine quickly apologized.)

While the race’s unexpected twists and turns may continue, “the Republicans could still win Missouri, even if Greitens is the candidate,” said William F. Hall, an adjunct professor of political science at Webster University, Washington University and Maryville University.

The primaries are scheduled for Aug. 2, although there’s a chance they could be pushed back if an internal dispute among Republicans over redistricting ends up delaying the drawing of district lines.

PolitiFact plans to fact-check candidates for U.S. Senate in key states. We have so far assembled primers on the Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Georgia senate races. If you spot a claim in an ad, speech, debate or on social media that you think may warrant a fact-check, email us at [email protected]

Major candidates


Eric Greitens: Campaign website

Biography: Greitens graduated from Duke University and won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. As a Navy SEAL, Greitens deployed to Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, the Horn of Africa, and Iraq, receiving a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. In 2005, Greitens served as a White House fellow during the presidency of George W. Bush; he later founded a group called the Mission Continues to aid wounded veterans. He is a marathon runner and a boxer, and he holds a black belt in taekwondo.

Running as an outsider, Greitens was elected governor in 2016. However, a year and a half into his term, Greitens resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct. His 2022 Senate bid marks his return to politics.

Core policies: While Greitens’ campaign website does not have an issues section, it touts his remarks at the conservative CPAC conference, in which he criticized the Biden administration’s immigration policy, saying that “waves of third-world invaders are destroying the country.” He also lashed out at the “tyranny” of coronavirus restrictions as well as “critical race theory, defund the police, inflation, and military disasters.”

Key backers: While Trump has not yet endorsed any Republican candidates in the race, Greitens has a number of Trump-linked figures supporting his candidacy. They include former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and Kimberly Guilfoyle, the partner of Donald Trump Jr. 

Vicky Hartzler: Campaign website

Biography: Hartzler grew up on her family’s farm. She earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Missouri and a master’s in education at what is now the University of Central Missouri. She taught and coached in Missouri schools for 11 years, then ran for the state House in 1994, eventually serving three terms. In 2004, she headed the Coalition to Protect Marriage in Missouri, which backed a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Despite being outspent, the amendment passed easily. Hartzler ran for Congress in 2010, winning a nine-way GOP primary and then ousting the longtime Democratic incumbent, who was chair of the House Armed Services Committee. Hartzle has remained in the House since, becoming a leading Republican on socially conservative and military issues.

Core policies: As a Senate candidate, she is running ads criticizing transgender athletes taking part in women’s sports. On her website, she touts her “strong support” for Trump’s border security efforts and his tax cut legislation, as well as her backing for gun rights and opposition to China’s “threat to American workers, American safety, and our way of life.” Meanwhile, from her seat on the Armed Services committee, Hartzler has advocated the interests of the large military bases in her district, including Whiteman Air Force Base. 

Key backers: Hartzler’s most important endorsement so far is Sen. Josh Hawley. “Normally, endorsements do not mean much,” Warren said, “but in this case, maybe it has, since Hawley is a Trump backer in a state where Trump is popular.” Other endorsements of Hartzler include former Missouri Republican Sen. Kit Bond; Republican Sens. Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Roger Marshall of Kansas; Tony Perkins, president of the socially conservative Family Research Council; and the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List.

Eric Schmitt: Campaign website

Biography: Eric Schmitt earned his undergraduate degree from Truman State University and his law degree from Saint Louis University. He worked as a lawyer in private practice for 16 years. In 2008, he was elected to the state Senate, then eight years later was elected state treasurer. When Hawley won his race for the U.S. Senate in 2018, Schmitt was appointed to succeed him as attorney general. 

Core policies: Schmitt touts his work as attorney general in advancing conservative causes. He cited a lawsuit he filed against the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party, his investigation of “big tech,” his brief supporting a pro-Trump 2020 election lawsuit, his defense of a high-school coach’s religious freedom, and his lawsuit seeking reinstatement of the Keystone XL pipeline, which was canceled by Biden. He also cites his work on the Safer Streets Initiative, which targeted violent crime, as well as his efforts to address a rape kit backlog.

One of Schmitt’s three children was born with a rare genetic condition causing tumors on his organs; he also has epilepsy, is on the autism spectrum, and is non-verbal. Schmitt touts a bipartisan effort from his time as a state legislator that helped ensure coverage for autism therapies.

Key backers: Schmitt has been endorsed by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Missouri conservative activist and donor Rex Sinquefield; venture capitalist Peter Thiel; and the Senate Conservatives Fund, founded by former Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.

Billy Long: Campaign website

Biography: Long founded an auction company — he enjoys breaking into auction calls to impress visitors — and he spent six years as an AM radio talk show host in southwestern Missouri. In 2010, he ran for Congress to succeed Blunt, who was running for Senate. Long won a seven-way primary and was elected easily in the general election. 

Core policies: Long’s issue agenda mirrors those of his fellow primary hopefuls, targeting China, illegal immigration, election fraud, gun control, and abortion.

Key backers: Long has not received any major endorsements in the Senate race, but he received something approaching one from Trump. Trump has released a statement in which he wondered whether Missouri Republicans had given “the big, loud, and proud personality of Congressman Billy Long” consideration. “This is not an Endorsement, but I’m just askin’?” Trump wrote.

It’s unclear who Trump will formally endorse in the race, if anyone. But Long “really needs Trump’s endorsement to be a threat to move into the top tier,” Squire said.

Mark McCloskey: Campaign website

Biography: McCloskey, who earned his bachelor’s and law degree from Southern Methodist University, is a longtime trial lawyer in St. Louis. Along with his wife Patricia, McCloskey came to national attention in 2020 after brandishing guns outside of their St. Louis mansion at Black Lives Matter marchers; a photograph of the faceoff dominates McCloskey’s campaign home page. The couple became mainstays on conservative cable news channels, and Trump invited the them to speak at the 2020 Republican National Convention. The couple pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges that would trigger fines but no jail time; subsequently, they were pardoned by Republican Gov. Mike Parson.

Core policies: McCloskey’s agenda is similar to those of his primary rivals: stopping “critical race theory” in schools, challenging China and “big tech,” opposing abortion, requiring voter identification and citizenship checks at the polls, increasing funding for police, and protecting gun rights. 

Key backers: No major endorsements.

Dave Schatz: Campaign website

Biography: Schatz grew up helping his family’s construction company, which is still in business. He served for four years in the state House and eight years in the state Senate, most recently as president pro-tempore.

Core policies: Schatz’s issue agenda is similar to those of his GOP primary rivals, focusing on border security, opposition to abortion, and support for gun rights and for the police.

Key backers: While Schatz hasn’t made much of a dent in the polls, he received the endorsement of Thomas P. Schneider, the former mayor of Florissant. This is notable because Schneider had been considering joining the Senate race after a call by former Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., for an independent candidate who could court the middle of the electorate between the two parties’ bases. Schneider eventually decided not to run, writing that both parties already had an acceptable candidate in the race. In the Republican primary, Schneider wrote, Schatz has “demonstrated the kind of pragmatic leadership that is the opposite of his bombastic, self-serving extremist opponents who say anything to gratify their radical base.” On the Democratic side, Schneider said he welcomed the arrival of Valentine, “who I believe shares the centrist views that I have.”


Lucas Kunce: Campaign website

Biography: Kunce, a native of Jefferson City, earned an undergraduate degree from Yale University and a law degree from the University of Missouri. He spent 13 years in the Marines, including deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the Marine Special Operations Command, Kunce learned to speak Pashto, the language of southern Afghanistan. Later, he held positions in the Pentagon, including ones that focused on nuclear, chemical, and missile technology proliferation and negotiations with Russia.

After leaving active duty, he joined the American Economic Liberties Project, which takes a populist approach to inequality, corporate monopolies, and rank-and-file workers. This is Kunce’s second run for elected office, having failed earlier in his career to win a state House seat. He remains in the Marine Corps Reserve.

Core policies: Kunce is running on a populist platform. Politico has characterized his approach as, “whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you’re all getting screwed.”

“When I came back from Iraq in 2009, the first house I’d ever lived in was bulldozed down, and it’s now an empty lot,” he has written. “When I came back from Afghanistan, the house I lived in when I joined the Marine Corps was vacant and starting to fall apart. The corner store is boarded up. … We should have been spending our money, blood, and sweat on towns like St. Joe, St. Louis, and Jefferson City.”

Specifically, Kunce urges breaking up “corporate monopolies” and “big agriculture,” abolishing corporate political action committees, legalizing marijuana, and implementing a “Marshall Plan” for the Midwest. He has called out Blunt and Hawley for allowing “our farmland (to) be sold overseas to China and Brazil.”

Kunce hasn’t spared Democrats in his criticism, telling Bloomberg that his own party “sold out to Wall Street, big tech, and others a while ago in order to keep up on campaign contributions or whatever else, and so people don’t trust them anymore.”

Key backers: The League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group; and two liberal groups, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and VoteVets.

Trudy Busch Valentine: Campaign website

Biography: Valentine was born into the Busch beer family, growing up with six siblings at Grant’s Farm, the family’s ancestral home. She earned a nursing degree at Saint Louis University; she subsequently helped endow the Trudy Busch Valentine School of Nursing at the university. Valentine has worked as a nurse, including caring for residents of the Salvation Army Residence for Children. Valentine later earned a master’s degree in pastoral studies from the Aquinas Institute of Theology.

Core policies: Reflecting her late entry into the race, Valentine’s campaign website does not have an issues page. In her first interview since entering the race, she told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that “nurses truly are heroes. I want to bring the heart of a nurse to Washington.” 

Valentine’s husband John died of cancer at age 49, and one of her six children, Matthew, died after battling opioid addiction, so she is expected to prioritize health care and addiction policy.. 

Valentine has said she supports abortion rights. She said she believes that “law-abiding gun owners should be allowed to own guns for hunting and personal protection” but also favors “policies like background checks.”

Key backers: Valentine has not secured significant endorsements yet.

Our fact checks

TeamPAC: “Eric Schmitt “sponsored a bill to spend $480 million of your tax dollars” on cargo hub for airlines “owned by China’s Communist Party” and “voted to let China buy up Missouri farmland.” (Half True)