GOP primary for Missouri Senate seat gets rolling after Blunt passes on third term

 GOP primary for Missouri Senate seat gets rolling after Blunt passes on third term

Naturally, speculation about which Republicans would campaign to succeed Blunt cranked up instantly. Former Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned in disgrace in 2018, had in fact already said earlier this month that he was thinking about challenging Blunt for renomination, though he has not said anything about his plans now that the seat is open.

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A few Republicans did publicly express interest, though:

Smith and Wagner, who almost ran for against McCaskill in 2018, each said they’d be taking “the coming days” to think about their plans.

The Washington Examiner’s David Drucker says that two other members of the delegation, Reps. Billy Long and Blaine Luetkemeyer, are also considering. The Missouri Independent’s Jason Hancock adds that wealthy businessman John Brunner, who lost primaries for Senate in 2012 and governor in 2016, is thinking about campaigning for this seat.

Various media organizations, meanwhile, have mentioned Attorney General Eric Schmitt, Rep. Sam Graves, and retired NASCAR driver Carl Edwards as possibilities. Hancock also name-dropped both Gov. Mike Parson and state Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick, though he said it was unlikely either would run.

It remains to be seen if Blunt’s departure will entice national Democrats to take a harder look at the Show Me State. Democrats already had a notable candidate, former state Sen. Scott Sifton, running before Blunt retired, but at least one other pol is now taking a look. Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said Monday he would spend the “next several weeks” considering; Lucas would be the first African American elected statewide in Missouri, which he noted in his statement. However, both McCaskill and Kander quickly said no to another campaign.

Blunt’s departure ends a very long career in state and national politics. Blunt got his start by volunteering on fellow Republican John Ashcroft’s 1972 bid for Congress; Ashcroft lost the primary, but the following year, Gov. Kit Bond appointed Blunt as clerk for Greene County, which is home to the city of Springfield. In 1978, Blunt’s father, Leroy Blunt, was himself elected to the state House by beating Betty Anne McCaskill, the mother of the younger Blunt’s future Senate colleague.

Roy Blunt unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor in 1980, but he bounced back four years later when he was elected secretary of state. He then campaigned for governor in 1992 in an ugly primary that included Attorney General William Webster, who was under federal investigation at the time for corruption.

Blunt ran a commercial made by future Fox executive Roger Ailes that attacked the attorney general’s ethics with a visual of men on a merry-go-round wildly laughing as they placed cash in a “Webster Campaign” barrel before taking money out of one marked “State Fund.” Blunt also focused on allegations that Webster’s campaign had distributed a booklet full of plagiarized passages.

Webster won the primary 44-39 only to lose the general to Democrat Mel Carnahan. The following year, Webster would plead guilty to felony embezzlement, while Blunt took over as president of his alma mater, Southwest Baptist University. Blunt’s absence from elected office was short, though, as he sought an open U.S. House seat in 1996 in the 7th District, located in the heavily Republican southwestern corner of the state. He prevailed in the primary 56-44 before easily winning in the fall.

Blunt never had any trouble holding his seat over the following decade, and his family also continued to extend its influence in Missouri politics. The congressman’s son, Matt Blunt, was the one Republican to win statewide office in 2000 when he was elected secretary of state, and the younger Blunt won a promotion in 2004 by narrowly beating McCaskill for governor. Roy Blunt himself also climbed the ranks in D.C. when he was named House majority whip, the caucus’ third-ranking post, that same year.

Blunt took over as acting majority leader in 2005 when Texas Rep. Tom DeLay stepped aside after being indicted on corruption charges, and he campaigned to keep the job the following year after DeLay permanently left the post. However, while Blunt appeared to be the frontrunner for the job that would have put him in line to become speaker, he unexpectedly lost to Ohio Rep. John Boehner. Blunt remained whip, even after the GOP lost control of the House in 2006, while Boehner went on to claim the speakership after Republicans took it back in 2010.

The Blunt family’s influence appeared to ebb in 2008 when the unpopular Matt Blunt announced that he would not seek re-election as governor after just a single term. The elder Blunt also stepped down as whip after the party was hit with further losses in the House that fall, a move that seemed to mark the end of his time in D.C. as a major power player.

That’s very much not what happened, though. In 2009, Blunt quickly entered the race to succeed his old ally Kit Bond as senator, and he scared off any serious intra-party opposition. State Sen. Chuck Purgason had hoped to ride the tea party wave to the GOP nomination against the longtime party establishment figure, but Blunt crushed him in the primary 71-13.  

Blunt’s opponent that fall was Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, the daughter of the late Mel Carnahan, the former governor. Missouri had originally looked like a top Democratic target—McCaskill had flipped the state’s other Senate seat in 2006, and John McCain had carried the state only 49.4-49.2—and early polls showed Carnahan smoking Blunt. Once again, however, things worked out far better for Blunt than almost anyone expected: 2010 was a horrible year for Democrats nationally, and Missouri’s continuing lurch to the right helped power Blunt to a 54-41 win.

Blunt’s 2016 campaign, though, went very differently. The senator looked secure for most of the cycle against another Democratic secretary of state, Jason Kander, but Blunt’s middling approval ratings at home almost proved to be his undoing. Kander, who served with the Army in Afghanistan, proved to be an extremely strong comer even before he went up with a viral ad where he assembled a rifle blindfolded. He gained traction chiefly with a message that turned one of Blunt’s seeming strengths into a negative, charging the Blunt family with personally benefitting from its political power and pointing out in ads that Blunt’s wife and three of his kids were all lobbyists.

Major outside groups on both sides spent heavily here, and while Blunt prevailed by 3 points, he ran far behind Trump’s 56-38 showing.


AR-Sen: Republican Sen. John Boozman announced over the weekend that he would seek a third term to represent the now solidly red state of Arkansas in the Senate. Boozman had experienced some health problems that required heart surgery in 2014 and again in 2017, but he repeatedly said over the last year that he intended to run for re-election.

AZ-Sen: Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire announced last week that he would retire as head of the Arizona National Guard, a move that amped up chatter that he could seek the Republican nomination to take on Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly. McGuire told Capitol Media Services that he could enter politics once his departure takes effect on April 10. Reporter Howard Fischer writes that McGuire told him that “he would have to make a decision relatively quickly” if he decides to run for office.

IN-Sen: Former Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly told Howey Politics on Monday that he would not challenge his former colleague, Republican Sen. Todd Young.

PA-Sen: Real estate developer Jeff Bartos, who was the 2018 Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, announced Monday that he would run for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat. Bartos is the most prominent Republican so far to join a primary that includes businessman Everett Stern and attorney Sean Gale, though many others are considering the race to succeed retiring Republican Pat Toomey.

Bartos spent part of 2017 running for the state’s other Senate seat and brought in about $1.3 million through the end of that September, with a bit less than half of that coming from self-funding. However, Bartos always looked like the underdog in the primary against Rep. Lou Barletta, and he announced in November that he’d run for lieutenant governor instead.

In Pennsylvania, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run in separate primaries, but Bartos campaigned as an ardent ally of the GOP’s gubernatorial frontrunner, far-right state Sen. Scott Wagner. Bartos won the GOP nomination 47-22, but the Wagner-Bartos ticket lost that fall to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf 58-41. Wolf’s running mate that year, now-Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, is seeking the Democratic nomination for the Senate, so it’s possible we could see a rematch of sorts between him and Bartos next year.

UT-Sen: Utah Policy’s LaVarr Webb reports that three Republicans are considering challenging Sen. Mike Lee for the party’s nomination, though at the moment there’s little indication that the far-right incumbent is in real danger.

Webb identifies Ally Isom, an executive at the nanotechnology firm EVOQ Nano who previously worked for then-Gov. Gary Herbert, and former state Rep. Becky Edwards as potential Lee challengers. Both women, though, spent last year encouraging fellow Mormon women to vote against Donald Trump, which may be too much for GOP primary voters to take even in Utah.

Webb also writes that Henry Eyring, who teaches accounting at the London School of Economics, is “expected to return home and seriously test the waters.” Eyring is the grandson and namesake of a high official in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

WI-Sen: It seems that Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is content to keep the political world guessing about his 2022 plans. Johnson said Friday that maintaining his old pledge not to run for a third term was “probably my preference now” but added that he didn’t feel any need to make up his mind anytime soon.


NY-Gov: New York’s top legislative leaders called on Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign over the weekend after two more former staffers accused the governor of sexual harassment. Cuomo insisted that he would not step down, saying that resigning would be “anti-democratic” and reportedly circulating a statement saying that demands for his departure would “undermine” Attorney General Tish James’ investigation of the allegations.

In total, five women, including four who used to work for him, have now charged the governor with inappropriate conduct. The two latest are Ana Liss, a former policy adviser, and Karen Hinton, a one-time communications aide, who both came forward on Saturday. Liss, who was in her late 20s at the time, told the Wall Street Journal that Cuomo asked her questions about her personal life, touched her lower back at a reception in 2014, and “once kissed her hand when she rose from her desk.” She says she later asked for a transfer to a different government office.

Hinton, who spoke with the Washington Post, says Cuomo invited her to his hotel room in 2000, when he was head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and pulled her into an unwanted embrace. Hinton says that Cuomo pulled her back toward him when she tried to pull away, which she was ultimately able to do before leaving the room.

A Cuomo spokesperson outright denied that the events described by Hinton ever took place, though a different spokesperson did not dispute Liss’ statements, saying only, “Reporters and photographers have covered the governor for 14 years watching him kiss men and women and posing for pictures. … That’s what people in politics do.”

The new allegations prompted state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to release a statement on Sunday saying, “For the good of the state Gov. Cuomo must resign.” She was joined by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a fellow Democrat, who said, “I too share the sentiment … regarding the governor’s ability to continue to lead this state. … I think it is time for the governor to seriously consider whether he can effectively meet the needs of the people of New York.”

On Monday, meanwhile, James announced that she had named two veteran lawyers to lead an independent investigation into the accusations against Cuomo: Joon Kim, a former acting U.S Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and employment discrimination attorney Anne Clark.

RI-Gov: Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said Thursday that he was still considering running for governor even though a fellow Democrat, Lt. Gov.-turned Gov. Dan McKee, will be the incumbent next year. “I feel like we’ve had several weeks where decades have happened, and the ground is shifting so quickly,” said the mayor, adding, “Who knows how everything shakes out?”

On the Republican side, Republican National Committeeman Steven Frias mentioned 2014 candidate Ken Block as a possibility. Block took 6% under the Moderate Party banner in the 2010 general election, but he ran as a Republican in 2014 and lost that primary by a more respectable 55-45 against Cranston Mayor Allan Fung. Block considered a third campaign in 2018, but he didn’t end up going for it.

SC-Gov: On Friday evening, Gov. Henry McMaster unveiled an endorsement from Donald Trump. (Because Trump’s Twitter account has been nuked, McMaster posted a graphic of Trump’s statement, which is basically the same as an old Trump tweet except a little longer. Lucky us.) Several Republicans have been publicly or privately considering challenging the governor for renomination, but no notable contenders have announced yet.

VA-Gov: The Virginia Republican Party announced Friday evening that it had decided that its original plan to hold a single-site nominating convention in the Liberty University parking lot was not workable. Chair Rich Anderson explained, “The convergence of as many as 4,000 automobiles and 70 buses at a single venue makes that impossible,” though he didn’t address the fact that Liberty still hasn’t given its permission to hold the event on its property.

Anderson added that the Republican State Central Committee would consider “proposals that have been put forth for a convention configuration that employs satellite locations across Virginia.” However, it would take 75% of the committee members to vote in favor of this change, a threshold that supporters of this option have repeatedly failed to reach in a series of extremely contentious party meetings.

Anderson acknowledged, “To be frank, I and most Republicans are fatigued by this process.” Democrats, meanwhile, are choosing their candidates for statewide office through a traditional state-run party primary.


FL-11: State Rep. Anthony Sabatini said on Monday that he would run for the House, though his fellow Republican, Rep. Dan Webster, angrily pre-empted that announcement with his own statement half an hour before Sabatini could issue his. In his own press release, Webster accused Sabatini of double-dealing, saying, “Last week, Rep. Sabatini called me to say he was running for Congress, but that he did not intend to run against me. Today, he has chosen to file his paperwork for Congressional District 11 instead of another district.” To erase any doubts about his own intentions, Webster also confirmed that he’d be seeking a seventh term next year.

Sabatini did launch his campaign from his hometown in Howey-in-the-Hills, which is located in this conservative north-central Florida district, but he didn’t mention Webster in his kickoff video. Instead, Sabatini railed against “the spineless and corrupt Republican establishment” that he claimed had betrayed Donald Trump.

Despite Webster’s fury, however, it’s far from guaranteed that he and Sabatini will wind up facing one another in next year’s primary. Florida is likely to gain two congressional seats for 2022, and Sabatini and his Republican colleagues in the legislature will be in charge of drawing up the new map.

Sabatini’s coworkers may not be keen to help him, though. The state representative lashed out in December when Speaker Chris Sprowls assigned him to four committees rather than the five that most members receive, further denying him any chairmanships or vice chairmanships. Sabatini said, “It was meant to send an extraordinarily clear message: that a legislative member’s delivery of the conservative message should be attenuated; that dissent is not to be tolerated; and that sticking to your conservative conscience is problematic.”

Indeed, Sabatini, who was elected in 2018 even after photos surfaced showing the now-32-year-old politician in blackface during his time in high school, has spent the last few years as one of the far-right’s national favorites. Among other things, Sabatini has sued to repeal mask mandates; has said that Joe Biden should be in jail; and tweeted that Kyle Rittenhouse, who is awaiting trial for murder, should be in Congress.

LA-05: University of Louisiana Monroe official Julia Letlow earned an endorsement this week from Republican Sen. John Kennedy ahead of the March 20 all-party primary to succeed her late husband, Luke Letlow. Letlow faces little in the way of GOP opposition.

TX-06: Republican Party activist Susan Wright earned an endorsement Monday from Rep. Kay Granger, a powerful member who represents a neighboring seat, ahead of the May 1 all-party primary in Texas’ 6th District. Granger is the fourth member of Congress to back Wright, who is running to succeed her late husband, Rep. Ron Wright. Wright also earned the support of Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, whose city makes up about 10% of the 6th District.


Special Elections: Tuesday brings a special election in Maine’s 14th State Senate district, which we previewed previously. The race features a face-off between Democrat Craig Hickman and Republican William Guerette for this Democratic-held seat, which backed Donald Trump 47-45 in 2016.


New York City, NY Mayor: On Friday, attorney Maya Wiley unveiled an endorsement from longtime Rep. Nydia Velázquez ahead of June’s instant-runoff Democratic primary. Velázquez is the first member of Congress to support Wiley: New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has the backing of Reps. Adriano Espaillat, Jerry Nadler, and Jamaal Bowman, while 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang has an endorsement from Rep. Ritchie Torres.

Meanwhile, former White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan said Monday that he’d raised enough money from small donors to qualify for the city’s matching funds program. The city Campaign Finance Board still needs to verify that Donovan has raised at least $250,000 from city residents who contributed between $10 and $250 before he can receive any public financing.

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