by Rudi Keller, Missouri Independent
Former Sen. Jack Danforth is looking for a centrist Republican to run an independent race for the U.S. Senate this year in Missouri — and said Friday there would be “a lot of resources” to help the campaign.
Danforth, who left the Senate in 1994 after three terms, enlisted a polling firm, Miami-based Bendixen & Amandi International, and an emerging political group, the Serve America Movement, to gauge whether Missouri is ready for an alternative in November.
The results, based on a survey of 800 voters in the first week of February, is that they are. A generic Republican nominee aligned with former President Donald Trump was chosen by 31 percent, as was a generic Democratic nominee aligned with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. A Republican-leaning independent was selected by 28 percent of those polled.
When the poll used the names of the “current leading candidates” for both major parties, the Republican nominee got 27%, the Democratic nominee 25%, and the independent 26%, a news release stated without giving the names of the candidates polled.
The ideal candidate, Danforth said in an interview Friday, would be someone known to Missourians who accepts that the most important thing the nation needs is someone who wants to soothe partisan divisions paralyzing the government.
“It needs to be a center-right Republican who believes in the basic message, and the basic message is that the project of America is to hold ourselves together and the two parties intentionally are tearing us apart,” Danforth said. “This is our opportunity for Americans to come together regardless of party.”
The poll is being released to attract the interest of potential candidates, not because there is a campaign ready or someone waiting to join the race, Danforth said. He added that he is not interested in being a candidate again.
“There is not a network of anything,” Danforth said. “There’s me and 80 percent who answered the poll. This would have to be a very, very well-financed campaign. Do I believe those resources would be available? Yes. I think it would be a very serious campaign with a lot of resources.”
Filing opens Tuesday for the August primary in the race to succeed Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican who is stepping aside after two terms in the Senate.
Major Republican candidates in the primary are former Gov. Eric Greitens, Attorney General Eric Schmitt, U.S. Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Billy Long, and St. Louis attorney Mark McCloskey. Democratic candidates include Air Force veteran Jewel Kelly, Marine veteran Lucas Kunce, community college professor Gena Ross, activist Tim Shepard, former state Sen. Scott Sifton and businessman Spencer Toder.
Greitens, who left office in 2018 as lawmakers moved to impeach him and while under indictment, accused of violent sexual misconduct during a 2015 affair, is leading the GOP field. Recent polling showed him with a narrow lead over Kunce, the Democrats’ most prolific fundraiser, worrying Republicans that the seat is in jeopardy if he is nominated, Politico reported.
Missouri has not elected an independent to the U.S. Senate since direct election of Senators began in 1913. Two of the 100 current members of the Senate, Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, are independents but they caucus with Democrats, making an even 50-50 split.
Democrats have the majority on the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris, and keeping the Missouri seat in Republican hands is vital for hopes of a GOP takeover.
Pushing for an independent candidate isn’t about stopping one individual, Danforth said.
“I think the Republican candidates, and I have been following them pretty closely, are indistinguishable,” Danforth said, adding “If there is a distinction, it is without a difference. I am not impressed by any of them but I also don’t want Chuck Schumer to be the majority leader.”
The polling data suggests voters are ready for an alternative.
Asked if they favor a Republican aligned with former President Donald Trump, believes Trump won in 2020 and opposes President Joe Biden’s agenda, 47% said they agree and 48% said they did not. Asked if having a Democrat who supported Biden and believes attempts to overturn the 2020 election led by Sen. Josh Hawley led “to a deadly insurrection,” 42% said they agree and 51% said they did not.
Danforth has long been critical of the growing partisanship in national politics and in 2017, became estranged from many Republicans by calling for them to distance themselves from Trump.
Danforth was also an early supporter of Hawley and played a key role in getting him to run for U.S. Senate in 2018.
After the Jan. 6 insurrection last year, Danforth said Hawley had a major share of the blame.
“I wouldn’t say he was storming the battlements himself,” Danforth said, “but he was certainly lighting the match in the middle of the forest and creating the situation where all this occurred.”
The effort to find an independent candidate isn’t about personalities, Danforth said.
“It goes deeper than that,” he said. “My views of Josh are well known, but we will need a lot of people who are Hawley believers and anti-Hawley people.”
Asked if they wanted an alternative who would work to close divisions, 67% said they agree.
On other questions, 72% said both parties are too extreme and 80% said the country is close to a constitutional crisis because of partisanship.
The Save America Movement is a Colorado-based group seeking to form a new centrist party. While it helped with the poll, Danforth said the quest to find an acceptable independent is not aligned with that group or any other political party.
“I just want to put that out there and see what happens,” he said of the poll.
The partisanship of both parties treats disagreements as a war and it is creating the worst divisions since the Civil War, Danforth said.
“The project of America is to hold ourselves together and the two parties intentionally are tearing us apart and this is our opportunity for Americans to come together, regardless of party,” he said.
The sentiments of President Abraham Lincoln in his First Inaugural Address express the tone he is looking for, he said.
Lincoln told the rebelling southern states that they were not enemies and that he hoped “the mystic chords of memory…will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
“So much depends on touching the better angels of our nature and that is what the campaign would be about,” Danforth said.