Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, and Trudy Busch Valentine, a Democrat candidate. (Photos provided)

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt emerged from a pack of candidates Tuesday to claim a convincing victory in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

On the Democrat side of Tuesday’s primary, Trudy Busch Valentine, a St. Louis nurse and heir to the Busch beer family, handily beat Lucas Kunce.

The outcome sets a pair of St. Louis area residents against each other on Nov. 8: a veteran politician in Schmitt vs. the first-time candidate Busch Valentine. Based on the primary campaign, voters can expect a barrage of spending on TV ads and mailers by the candidates themselves and independent political action committees, who will tend toward negative ads.

A wild card in the race could be John Wood, who delivered petitions Monday to secure a spot on the ballot as an Independent candidate. If he succeeds in joining the race, 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.

At a post-election campaign rally in St. Louis, Schmitt positioned himself as a populist and a fighter for conservative causes.

“I’m proud of my working class roots, and I’m going to Washington to fight for working families, defeat socialism and lead the fight to save America.”

“You guys ready to take this country back?” Schmitt asked rhetorically.

In her post-election rally, Busch Valentine told supporters there were parallels between her campaign and her profession, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

“I’m going to approach politics the same way I approach nursing and my life,” she said late Tuesday. “I’m going to treat everyone with compassion, respect and integrity. I’m going to put our differences aside and embrace what unites us.”

In the Republican primary, Schmitt doubled up the votes of his next-closest competitor, U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler. Here were the unofficial totals for the top five candidates among a total of 21:

VotesPct.
Eric Schmitt298,85245.7%
Vicky Hartzler144,46922.1%
Eric Greitens123,98218.9%
Billy Long32,5555.0%
Mark McCloskey19,5053.0%
All other candidates35,1115.4%

On the Democrat side, here were the unofficial totals for the top three candidates among a total of 11:

VotesPct.
Trudy Busch Valentine158,58343.2%
Lucas Kunce140,95338.4%
All other candidates67,88418.5%

The winners face off on Nov. 8 in what promises to be a high-profile election nationally, as Democrats hold out hope they could pick off the seat currently held by Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt. In all, 35 seats in the 100-member Senate will be contested — and Republicans are defending 21 of them, including Missouri. The Senate is currently split 50-50, when counting two Independents who caucus with the Democrats. Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, provides a tie-breaking vote, giving the Democrats marginal control of the Senate.

On the final eve of the primary, former President Donald Trump finally weighed in with a long-awaited endorsement for Republicans, but he split the baby by endorsing “ERIC” — and saying he trusted Missouri voters to choose the right Eric, presumably either Schmitt or former Gov. Eric Greitens. Trump had earlier said he would not endorse Hartzler, and he left Long at the altar.

U.S. Rep. Billy Long, R-Springfield, who left his safe seat as congressman from the 7th District to seek higher office, was unable to garner the fundraising to sustain his campaign, which was built around getting the eventual Trump endorsement. Throughout his year on the trail, he touted his ties to Trump and hired a prominent Trump adviser, Kellyanne Conway, to help run his campaign.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Schmitt seemed to be distancing himself from the field, enjoying a boost from a heavy rotation of television ads — both those supporting his candidacy and those attacking Greitens and Hartzler.

His campaign was built around using his office as Attorney General to grab headlines across the state as he filed lawsuit after lawsuit challenging policies of the Biden administration, as well as local policies related to the COVID pandemic.

The Attorney General’s office has long served as a launch pad for ambitious candidates, including John Danforth, John Ashcroft and Jay Nixon who used the office as a path to higher office. The soon-to-be senior senator from Missouri, Republican Josh Hawley, began his successful Senate campaign less than a year after being sworn in as attorney general.

After Hawley’s election in 2018, Schmitt was appointed attorney general by Gov. Mike Parson, and then won his own term in 2020. Previously, he served two years as state treasurer, and eight years as a state senator from St. Louis County.

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Greitens was elected governor in 2016 and resigned in June 2018  to avoid impeachment among several scandals and potential felony charges. He built his comeback bid on being an outsider who was wronged by others as part of a “corrupt political takedown.” 

As a Kansas City Star profile concluded: “If Greitens learned any lessons in his time out of the public eye, it appears he learned just one — deny. Deny forcefully. …  There has been no public apology, no reconciliation. His version of redemption, it seems, will depend on whether he has convinced enough Missouri Republicans to send him to the U.S. Senate.”

Greitens described Republicans In Name Only (referred to by the acronym RINOs) as the root of the country’s problems. “(It) is the RINOs who keep stabbing real patriots in the back and keep stabbing President Trump.”

Hartzler, a former home economics teacher and state legislator, ran on her record over the past 12 years representing Missouri’s 4th District, which covers most of the west-central part of Missouri, from just south of Kansas City, as far south as Barton, Dade and portions of Webster counties, and east to Columbia.

She has openly shared her faith, and used that as reasoning to oppose transgender athletes and expanded acceptance for LGBTQ individuals. It’s consistent with her history: In 2004, she was the state spokeswoman for the Coalition to Protect Marriage, which led a successful campaign for a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Missouri. (A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2015 overturned the ban.)

Democrat candidates

On the Democrat side of the ballot, Kunce enjoyed several months with the field largely to himself following the announcement of his candidacy in early 2021. As of June 30 this year, he led all candidates — Democrat or Republican — in fundraising, relying primarily on small donors and rejecting funding from corporate political action committees.

But the race changed in late March as Busch Valentine decided to make her first run for office. It took her some time to get up to speed, and as of June 30, she was largely self-funding the campaign. She said she was motivated to run in part because of her son’s death in 2020 from an opioid overdose — and a hope to do whatever she could to fight the opioid epidemic and improve access to quality health care.

Busch Valentine is a nurse and mother of six children. She is the daughter of Gertrude Buholzer Busch and August (Gussie) Anheuser Busch Jr., who grew the Anheuser-Busch companies into the largest brewery in the world.

Kunce grew up in a working-class neighborhoods of Jefferson City. He attended Yale University on grants, came back to Missouri for law school and served 13 years as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. He previously ran, unsuccessfully, for the Missouri House in 2006.

David Stoeffler

David Stoeffler is the chief executive officer of the Springfield Daily Citizen. He has more than 40 years experience in the news business, having been a reporter, editor and news executive in Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, Arizona and Missouri. You may email him at dstoeffler@sgfcitizen.org or call 417-837-3664. More by David Stoeffler