Campaign website for Republican Billy Long, candidate for U.S. Senate.

ANALYSIS |

Welcome to the 4th of July edition of the Senate Campaign Digest — and Happy Independence Day!

This holiday weekend is often considered the official kickoff to the election season, with candidates flooding parade routes and voters starting to pay more attention. This year, the holiday comes with just four weeks to go to Missouri’s Aug. 2 primary.

For local Congressman Billy Long, it shapes up to be a challenging stretch run to overtake better-funded opponents who are garnering headlines in the Republican primary.

When he officially kicked off his campaign on his birthday 11 months ago, Long was his usual loquacious and exuberant self, donning his white cowboy hat and new tennis shoes, promising his “Billy Bus” would visit all 114 counties in the state. He touted his ties to former President Donald Trump and hired a prominent Trump advisor, Kellyanne Conway, to help run his campaign.

Long isn’t shy about noting (correctly) that he was an early supporter of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, and talked about regular visits with the president. For instance, in an August 2021 campaign stop in Joplin, he mentioned a meeting in Trump Tower: 

“Trump said to me, ‘So, you’re in (the U.S. Senate seat race)?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ and he looked at me and said, ‘Without my endorsement?’ and I said, ‘Mr. President, I’m going to win this race with or without your endorsement.’”

Of course, the strategy always has been to get that endorsement. Even at this stage of the campaign, Long could hold out hope that Trump’s backing would help him break out from polling numbers consistently showing him with about 10 percent of the GOP vote. As the Kansas City Star reported, this would mirror the path followed by J.D. Vance in Ohio, who was trailing the Republican field for U.S. Senate in Ohio with 11 percent of the vote in some polls. Following Trump’s endorsement, he won the primary by about 8 percentage points.

Naturally, other candidates, including former Gov. Eric Greitens, are equally interested in backing from Trump. “President Trump’s decision about when he is going to endorse in this race or any race is 100% up to him and his team,” Greitens told a crowded room of supporters June 27 in response to questions from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The closest Long has come to getting that endorsement was in late March, when the former president issued a statement shared on Twitter by Conway (remember, Trump himself is banned from Twitter):

Of late, Long has not grabbed much attention in news coverage. His campaign gave up the Billy Bus (it cost more than $5,000 to decorate with his face, and $15,000 per month to operate, according to a Kansas City Star story based on campaign finance reports). We will get a better picture of the status when campaign finance reports are filed in mid-July.

Still, Long thinks he is the best bet to win in November. “I think I’m the one who can win this race in the general election without a lot of big pushback from the Democrats,” Long said on a recent episode of Politically Speaking, on St. Louis Public Radio. “I think if we elect Eric Greitens, the party has told us we’ll have to spend $40 million to $50 million trying to drag him across the finish line.”

Long also argued “that other major candidates in the race — U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler and Attorney General Eric Schmitt — don’t have conservative credentials, even if they have more money in the bank than he does.”

In the news

Hartzler banks on conservative policy and endorsers in Missouri Senate race

From St. Louis Public Radio: Since jumping into the U.S. Senate race last year, (U.S. Rep. Vicky) Hartzler has been near the top tier of fundraisers and public polling. She’s received key endorsements from agriculture groups like the Missouri Farm Bureau PAC, former elected officials such as Kit Bond and, most notably, U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley. Read more

John Wood officially running for U.S. Senate in Missouri as an independent

From KCUR, the NPR station in Kansas City: John Wood, former federal prosecutor and senior investigative counsel to the January 6 Committee, said the divisive politics shaping up in Missouri’s U.S. Senate primaries prompted him to run as a mainstream independent candidate. Wood, who identifies as a mainstream Republican, will run as an independent. Wood said he would caucus with the Republican Party if elected to the Senate. To get on the November ballot as an independent, Wood will need to submit petitions signed by 10,000 registered voters by Aug. 1. Read more

Danforth Super PAC to spend up to $20 million to lift independent John Wood in Missouri Senate race

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: A political action committee controlled by former U.S. Sen. John Danforth plans to spend up to $20 million to support an independent’s bid for the Senate this November. The Missouri Stands United PAC, in a news release, said it was spending $3 million on direct mail, radio, TV and digital advertising through July 17, with more ad spending on deck. Read more

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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.