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Missouri will soon vote in high-stakes U.S. Senate primary


Missouri Republicans go to the polls soon to pick their nominee to run for the U.S. Senate. An urgent question for the August 2nd primary is whether opponents can stop Eric Greitens, a controversial former governor with an ardent base of support. His victory could complicate Republican hopes to hold onto this Senate seat, as St. Louis Public Radio's Jason Rosenbaum reports.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It's my pleasure to introduce the next United States senator for the great state of Missouri, Governor Eric Greitens.


JASON ROSENBAUM: In the back room of a dimly lit buffet in Jefferson County, Missouri, well over a hundred people are crammed together to hear Eric Greitens speak. Before launching into repudiations of President Biden, Missouri's former governor alluded to how he's held in contempt in some corners of the state Republican Party.


ERIC GREITENS: We're going to win, and we are not going to become our enemies.


GREITENS: We're not going to become them.

ROSENBAUM: Greitens' adversaries have been numerous. His term as governor was stormy as GOP lawmakers were ready to impeach him before he resigned amid scandals around an extramarital affair and campaign finance controversies.


ROSENBAUM: After shaking dozens of hands and posing for a few pictures, Greitens said he's using the animosity from Republicans as a drawing point. He's railing against GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell and created a viral web ad where he storms into a house with a gun along with people dressed as soldiers hunting Republicans in name only.

GREITENS: Everyone recognizes that the problem in the country is not just from the left; it's not just their craziness. But it's the consistent way that RINOs are stabbing people in the back.

ROSENBAUM: But Greitens' enemies are using a more recent scandal to try and torpedo his Senate hopes. His ex-wife accused him of abusing her and their son, and Sheena Greitens' allegations have featured prominently in negative advertising. Here's someone reading an excerpt in one ad.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Reading) I wanted to protect our children because I was afraid of what Eric would do.

ROSENBAUM: Greitens strongly denies his ex-wife's allegations. But Bill Eigel, a GOP state senator who opposes Greitens' candidacy, says the ads are devastating.

BILL EIGEL: I don't know if I've seen more destructive ads put out against a candidate. And in this case, is - I'm one of the folks - and I think there are many of these folks in Missouri - that believe what she's saying.

ROSENBAUM: But Greitens possesses dedicated supporters throughout the state. That includes St. Louis County resident Donna Pigg, who contends the attacks against him are similar to how some Republicans treated Donald Trump.

DONNA PIGG: And he doesn't have to speak his personal stuff. It's none of their business. So if they're attacking him, they're jealous.

ROSENBAUM: Trump hasn't endorsed anyone in the Missouri Senate race. That could be decisive since he won Missouri twice by huge margins. He did put out a statement that he's not endorsing Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, who has the backing of U.S. Senator Josh Hawley and a bevy of agricultural groups. Hartzler is unfazed by Trump's lack of support.

VICKY HARTZLER: He knows that I've worked with him more than anybody else to change - get our country back on track. But, you know, I think people are just wanting to meet me personally. They're listening to Missourians who know me. And ultimately, I think that's going to hold the most sway.

ROSENBAUM: The other major contender is Attorney General Eric Schmidt, who is emphasizing his lawsuits against the Biden administration and COVID-19 restrictions.

ERIC SCHMITT: And our office is really taking the lead nationally and taking - as I referred, taking a blowtorch to that agenda. So I think if you look and see who's actually, you know, taking action, that's certainly a strong suit for us.

ROSENBAUM: If Schmitt or Hartzler prevail, Democrats concede they'll have an uphill battle in November. But for Linda Ragsdale, a GOP voter from St. Charles County, everything changes if Greitens wins.

LINDA RAGSDALE: That is going to drive a lot of Republicans to stay home in November. It'll get the Democrats more excited to come out and cast their votes in November.

ROSENBAUM: Greitens' supporters find that argument unpersuasive pointing to Missouri shift toward Republicans. But a Greitens victory on August 2nd could put the Senate seat in jeopardy for the GOP. For NPR News, I'm Jason Rosenbaum in St. Louis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Since entering the world of professional journalism in 2006, Jason Rosenbaum dove head first into the world of politics, policy and even rock and roll music. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Rosenbaum spent more than four years in the Missouri State Capitol writing for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri Lawyers Media and the St. Louis Beacon. Since moving to St. Louis in 2010, Rosenbaum's work appeared in Missouri Lawyers Media, the St. Louis Business Journal and the Riverfront Times' music section. He also served on staff at the St. Louis Beacon as a politics reporter. Rosenbaum lives in Richmond Heights with with his wife Lauren and their two sons.

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