Republican Eric Schmitt, left, and Democrat Trudy Busch Valentine will face off Nov. 8 for the right to succeed Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt. Wild cards in the race could be an Independent candidate backed by former U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth, and efforts to tap voter sentiment over restrictions on abortion rights.

ANALYSIS |

Editor’s note: Just like the candidates, and most of you, we are exhausted from the intense primary fight for the Republican and Democrat nominations. So, the Springfield Daily Citizen’s Senate Campaign Digest will take a short break, with weekly roundups returning in mid-September.

The pundits are weighing in with reflections of the U.S. Senate primary campaign in Missouri and it boils down to this: Money talks.

On the Democrat side, Budweiser beer heiress Trudy Busch Valentine came from nowhere in just four months to best Lucas Kunce, who had led all fundraising through June 30 — but she undoubtedly spent more on TV ads and mailers in the final weeks to get the name recognition needed to win given the relatively small number of Democratic votes cast in the primary.

Attorney General Eric Schmitt poses with a supporter after claiming the Republican nomination for Missouri’s open U.S. Senate seat on Aug. 2, 2022. (Photo by Tessa Weinberg/Missouri Independent)

Attorney General Eric Schmitt prevailed handily on the Republican side of the ballot, more than doubling the number of votes for his next-closest opponent, U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler.

Here is a nugget from the Missouri Independent story that delves into Hartzler’s failed effort to capitalize on an endorsement by Missouri’s other U.S. Senator, Josh Hawley: “By the time voters went to the polls, $20.3 million of the $36.2 million reported so far for the GOP primary was spent to get Schmitt elected.”

Former President Donald Trump’s “anti-endorsement” of Hartzler in early July ultimately outweighed Hawley’s endorsement of her. And some suggest Hawley could have done more in the closing days to help her campaign, but he was satisfied to lay low because his real target — former Gov. Eric Greitens — was going to lose.

“I think President Trump’s comments against Vicky hurt her tremendously because they came at a time when voters are trying to decide who to vote for,” GOP consultant James Harris, who did not have a client in the primary, told the Missouri Independent

Hawley may be the most popular Missouri Republican, Harris said, but Trump is more popular. “It meant that 30% of the Republican base, if not more, were no longer considering Vicky Hartzler as their Republican candidate,” Harris said of Trump’s anti-endorsement.

At the same time, Trump’s last-minute gambit to endorse “ERIC” — presumably meaning he supported a vote for either Eric Schmitt or Eric Greitens — may have done nothing to change the outcome.

Trudy Busch Valentine emerged victorious in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate on Aug. 2, 2022. (Photo by Rebecca Rivas/Missouri Independent)

Money, not vision, won Dem race

For Democrats, it was not so much a battle of competing visions, but rather it was which candidate could “get more ads on television in the last 10 days,” Former Democratic Party chairman Stephen Webber told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Post-Dispatch analysis said Kunce won in the city of St. Louis, but “Valentine prevailed in voter-rich St. Louis County, Jefferson County and St. Charles County. She won wide swaths of rural Missouri, with Kunce winning in other regions of the state, including clusters of counties in northeast, southeast and southwest Missouri, as well as Pulaski County, home of Ft. Leonard Wood, and Greene County.” (Greene County favored Kunce, with 6,271 votes vs. 4,382 for Busch Valentine. By comparison, Schmitt drew 14,557 votes in Greene County about double the number for Hartzler and about 10,000 more than received by hometown candidate Billy Long.)

“We were outspent 5 to 1 on the airwaves and we still competed,” Kunce told the Post-Dispatch.

Greitens took it on the chin

Politico offered a revealing inside look at the yearlong campaign to torpedo Greitens’ attempted comeback. It tells the tale of how Johnny DeStefano, Rex Sinquefield and even Trudy Busch Valentine’s brother, August Busch III, teamed up to create the Show Me Values PAC. Final reports are not in, but the PAC reported spending $7.9 million between June 23 and July 21 to oppose Greitens, according to Federal Elections Commission data.

“What happened was Greitens had more of a glass jaw than a lot of people thought,” said Steven Law, who runs the super PAC Senate Leadership Fund aligned with Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell.

In his election-night concession speech, Greitens thanked people and told them to go home with “strength and pride.” The Kansas City Star reported that his speech talked about the lies, fear and cruelty his voters faced. “God has a plan,” Greitens said. “It doesn’t always work on our timeline. But it does work on his. And sometimes we have to practice patience. What I can tell you, is that I love you guys. I love you guys. And I will continue to work for you, continue to fight for you, continue to serve you every single day of my life.”

Independent U.S. Senate candidate John Wood delivers petition signatures Aug. 1, 2022, at Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office in Jefferson City. Wood needs 10,000 signatures from registered voters to make the November ballot. (Photo by Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent)

November wild card: John Wood

One wild card in November is John Wood, who delivered petitions Aug. 1 in the hope of being be listed alongside Schmitt and Busch Valentine, along with Libertarian Jonathan Dine and Constitution Party candidate Paul Venable.  

The Associated Press reported: “Republican leaders got their wish with the defeat of former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens in the U.S. Senate primary. Now, they face another complication: A well-funded, right-leaning political newcomer who could splinter some of the Republican and independent vote in November.”

The AP story by Jim Salter went on to quote Wood. “He’s very divisive and extreme and playing to the extreme parts of the Republican Party,” Wood said of Schmitt. “I think there is still room for a mainstream candidate who is going to appeal to a large segment of Missouri voters.”

Still, the AP quotes John Hancock, a former Missouri Republican Party chair, as saying Wood has “zero chance” of winning, and unlikely to take enough votes away from Schmitt to push Busch Valentine to victory. “Given the state of the electorate in Missouri and how substantially right of center it is, if he (Wood) ends up in the single digits or even the low double digits, Eric Schmitt still wins,” Hancock said.

Wood — a former U.S. attorney with deep Republican roots — is supported by former Republican U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth. Danforth’s political action committee, Missouri Stands United, has already spent about $5 million to promote Wood’s candidacy.

November wild card No. 2: Abortion

Another wild card could be the issue of abortion.

The Kansas City Star reported: “If there was one thing injecting hope into Democrats Wednesday morning, it was a vote across in neighboring Kansas, where voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would eliminate the right to an abortion in the state, a massive victory for abortion rights advocates in a red state.

“… On one side Schmitt, who as state attorney general enacted Missouri’s strict ban on abortion, one that does not include exceptions for rape or incest. On the other is Busch Valentine, an abortion rights supporter who is emphasizing her background as a nurse in an effort to bolster her credentials on women’s health issues.”

She told the Star: “I think that abortion rights, the intelligence, the autonomy and the independence of a woman, and the right to choose is going to be a big, big thing in this election,” Busch Valentine said.

Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt easily won his party’s nomination for U.S. Senate on Aug. 2, 2022. (Photo from Team Schmitt for US Senate Twitter feed)

November wild card No. 3: Experience

One candidate (Schmitt) has twice run successful statewide races and spent 17 years in public service, starting as an alderman in the St. Louis suburb of Glendale, and working his way through offices as state Senator, then to the offices of State Treasurer and Attorney General.

The other candidate (Busch Valentine) has no political experience, and it frequently showed during the primary. She stumbled in interviews when it came to social issues, particularly as it relates to LGBTQ rights. Her hometown paper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, endorsed Kunce and said Busch Valentine came across as “unprepared and unconvincing.”

She will likely need to be much more polished come October to pull off the upset of Schmitt in a state that now leans heavily Republican.

Please note: The Springfield Daily Citizen’s weekly Senate Campaign Digest will return in mid-September.

The Daily Citizen Senate Campaign Digest is compiled by David Stoeffler, CEO of the Daily Citizen. Stoeffler has more than 30 years of experience in covering politics in Wisconsin, Nebraska and Missouri. If you have tips or suggestions for the Senate campaign coverage, you may email him at dstoeffler@sgfcitizen.org.