On the two-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, Lucas Kunce announced his Democratic candidacy in the 2024 U.S. Senate Race in Missouri. (Photo provided by Lucas Kunce for Missouri)

Democrat Lucas Kunce announced his second bid for U.S. Senate on Jan. 6, the two-year anniversary of the attack on the Capitol, this time against incumbent Republican Sen. Josh Hawley.

That is, if Kunce can secure the Democratic nomination. In August’s Democratic primaries, he was defeated by Trudy Busch Valentine by less than 18,000 votes. Valentine went on to lose the general election to Eric Schmitt by almost 15 percent of the vote. 

Hawley, the now-senior Missouri senator following the retirement of Roy Blunt, is facing his first reelection campaign in 2024 after he himself defeated an incumbent in Democrat incumbent Claire McCaskill in 2018.  

Kunce political ad shows footage of Hawley on the day of the Capitol insurrection

Kunce, a self-described populist, announced his candidacy in the morning of Jan. 6 via a video that, as of Jan. 9, has already garnered more than 2.3 million views on Twitter alone. 

In the video, Kunce highlighted footage of Hawley fleeing the Jan. 6 riot, and displayed the image of Hawley raising his fist in solidarity with the protestors shortly before they stormed the Capitol.

“We launched on January 6 because that’s when he showed just what a true fraud and a coward he is,” Kunce said in an interview with the Daily Citizen.

In addition to announcing it on the commemorative date of Jan. 6, Kunce said that the announcement of his campaign came as early as it did due to the sheer amount of work he anticipates it will require.

“When you don’t have family wealth, and you don’t have a bunch of political and corporate connections…you’ve got to do a lot of work,” he said. “It is not easy in this country for an everyday person to get some representation or to represent. It’s a real slog, it’s meeting a lot of people, it’s getting to know their stories — that’s the fun part and the other part is just getting the name out there.

“And if you don’t have just a bunch of money and connections to do that, like normal people don’t, then you’re going to have to work extra hard, you’re going to have to do more time, and you’re going to have to do longer, but I think it’s worth it.”

Even as Donald Trump and other Republican politicians have continued to dominate most statewide elections in Missouri, Kunce expressed confidence that Missourians were ready to oust Hawley.

“He’s never had to run [for reelection] after showing his true colors,” Kunce said. “…I’m not worried about it. For me, this isn’t a left-right campaign, this isn’t about what party the guy’s in.”

Kunce suggests Missouri isn’t as red as it may seem

Despite having become a solidly red state, Kunce suggested that recent ballot initiatives indicate Missouri is ready for a change. Recent ballot initiatives in Missouri that have met some Republican (and some Democratic) opposition include the 2018 vote that increased the state minimum wage, the 2020 vote to expand Medicaid and the votes, four years apart, to legalize medical marijuana and recreational marijuana.

He also pointed to the 2016 Senate election results, when Roy Blunt won reelection against Democratic opponent Jason Kander by less than 3 percent of the vote despite Trump soundly defeating Hillary Clinton by over 18 percent. 

Despite having lost in the primary in his last Senate bid, Kunce feels like his campaign learned a lot and has plenty of momentum going forward. 

Kunce’s campaign raised the third most money of any Missouri Senate candidate in 2022 at north of $5.5 million, according to campaign finance reports, behind only Valentine and Schmitt.

“We had a record-breaking grassroots fundraising movement, and so all that work we did last time, we didn’t lose that,” he said. “It’s all still there, it carries with us and we’re going to start off in a much stronger position this time.”

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley at a campaign rally for Republican Eric Schmitt in Springfield Nov. 7, 2022. (Photo by David Stoeffler)

Hawley, Kunce both alumni of Yale, studied law

Kunce was raised in Hartsburg, Missouri, and served in the Marine Corps for 13 years, having spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan. Upon graduating high school, he attended Yale University, the University of Missouri and Columbia University, where he got a Master of Laws degree. He also has worked for the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. 

He touts himself as someone who understands the struggles of working-class Americans, having been raised in a working-class neighborhood in Jefferson City, where his family struggled with medical bills bankruptcy. He credits the support they received from their neighbors as the reason he joined the military, to “pay back the community that took care of me.”

Hawley, a native of Springdale, Arkansas, graduated from Stanford University and Yale University. Prior to being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2018, he served as the law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, a lawyer for nonprofit law firm Becket Law and as the Missouri Attorney General from 2017 to 2019.

FEC filings list Josh Hawley’s campaign committee, along with Kunce and Independent Zack Exley as the only current U.S. Senate candidates in Missouri for 2024.

Since announcing his campaign, Kunce has received national attention, having been interviewed on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, after former GOP Rep. Joe Scarborough praised his political ad, saying: “This is a really strong political introduction in ad form,” on Twitter.

Several other local and national publications have given coverage to the early Senate bid, including NBC, HuffPost and Breitbart. According to Politico, some of Kunce’s campaign team consists of “veterans” from the campaigns of John Fetterman, Wes Moore and Katie Hobbs, all Democrats who won their respective statewide elections in 2022 in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Arizona, respectively.

Jack McGee

Jack McGee is the business and economic development reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. He previously covered politics and elections for the Citizen. Before that, he worked at documentary film company Carbon Trace Productions and Missouri State University’s student-led newspaper, The Standard. He’s an MSU graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism and a minor political science. Reach him at jmcgee@sgfcitizen.org or (417) 719-5129. More by Jack McGee