Schmitt and Busch Valentine will face off in U.S. Senate race after contentious primaries

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Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Democratic beer heiress Trudy Busch Valentine won the party nominations for U.S. Senate in Missouri on Tuesday night, riding well-financed campaigns to victory in competitive races on both sides of the aisle.

Schmitt, who ran a campaign defined by frequent and headline-grabbing litigation against political opponents and public schools, was propelled in the final weeks of the campaign by a storm of outside spending and criticism aimed at one of his chief opponents, former Gov. Eric Greitens.

Schmitt came out on top against Greitens, U.S. Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Billy Long, as well as a slew of other GOP candidates, earning more than 45 percent of the vote. Hartzler earned 22 percent and Greitens garnered just under 19 percent, according to preliminary totals from the Secretary of State.

An heiress to the Anheuser-Busch beer fortune, registered nurse and philanthropist worth up to $215 million, Busch Valentine was a last-minute entrant to the race but gained immediate momentum thanks to a raft of mostly self-funded TV ads and endorsements from elected Democrats past and present.

She defeated U.S. Marine veteran Lucas Kunce, who ran a "populist" campaign criticizing corporations and "elites," including Busch Valentine herself, earning 43 percent of the vote to Kunce's 38 percent.

More: What Springfield voters are saying about Tuesday's primary elections in Missouri

Schmitt is the heavy favorite to succeed the retiring U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt in November, as Missouri increasingly has voted for Republicans in recent statewide elections. In his victory speech in St. Louis on Tuesday night, he took a shot at his Democratic opponent, the Missouri Independent reported, saying "I don't come from billions. I come from Bridgeton. I'm proud of my working class roots."

Busch Valentine, meanwhile, said in a statement that “whether you vote for me or not — in the Senate I will work hard every day for you. I’m going to approach politics the same way I approached nursing and my life. I’m going to treat others with compassion, respect, and integrity. I’m going to put our differences aside and embrace what unites us."

Eric Schmitt prevailed in chaotic GOP race

Schmitt represented St. Louis County in the state Senate before a stint as state treasurer. He was appointed attorney general by Gov. Mike Parson in late 2018 after his predecessor and soon-to-be senior U.S. senator, Josh Hawley, won his election. Schmitt won another four-year term in 2020 before announcing his run for Senate.

As attorney general, Schmitt has filed a flurry of lawsuits that have garnered headlines. He touts the litigation as evidence that he is a "conservative fighter" who will "take a blowtorch to Biden's socialist agenda." He has sued school districts over curriculum transparency requests, the Biden administration over COVID-19 vaccine requirements, and the nation of China for liability over early infections from the virus. Moments after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, he issued an opinion activating the state's ban on abortion.

Throughout the campaign, he has frequently derided Democrats, proponents of pandemic guidelines and climate scientists and advocates alike, mocking "the experts (tm)" on social media and arguing that they were manufacturing crises to gain power.

More: Missouri AG Schmitt demands Springfield Public Schools, others provide student surveys

Schmitt was the beneficiary of significant outside spending during the primary, with more than $7 million spent in support of his campaign, according to OpenSecrets — the most of any candidate — while super PACs backing him attacked Greitens and Hartzler. He has received the most money of any candidate in the country from Americans for Prosperity Action, a PAC extension of the libertarian conservative group founded by the Koch brothers. The group has backed him to the tune of $4.3 million.

Schmitt also was one of the beneficiaries of a last-minute "endorsement" from former President Donald Trump, who simply backed "ERIC" and said he "trusts the Great People of Missouri, on this one, to make up their own minds." Both he and Greitens claimed the vague endorsement as their own.

More: Donald Trump backs 'ERIC' in eleventh-hour U.S. Senate sort of endorsement

Greitens, who entered the race with the highest name recognition in the field, resigned the governorship in 2018 facing allegations of sexual misconduct and potential campaign finance violations. New accusations from his ex-wife of domestic abuse toward her and their children sparked a fresh wave of criticism and scrutiny that led to millions of dollars of opposition outside spending from Republican officials and donors around the country, which paid for frequent television, online and mail ads that center around his litany of scandals.

Hartzler, who has represented west-central Missouri in the House since 2011, ran a campaign touting herself as the reliable conservative choice with a proven record in Washington. She was endorsed by soon-to-be-senior senator Hawley and touted a platform defined by "faith, family and freedom," but was publicly rebuked by Trump in the final weeks of the campaign.

Hawley congratulated Schmitt on his victory on Twitter, writing "now on to victory in November."

Long, who frequently touted his early support for Trump in an effort to earn his endorsement, failed to receive it or gain momentum throughout the race, earning 5 percent of the vote. Before the winner was officially called Tuesday night, he conceded on Twitter.

"I just called (Eric Schmitt) and congratulated him on a big victory tonight and offered my full endorsement and cooperation going forward," Long wrote. Anything I can do to help I will and he and his great team know that. On (to) November!"

St. Louis attorney Mark McCloskey, who gained national attention in 2020 when he and his wife pointed guns at protesters outside their home, and Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz also vied for the nomination. They earned 3 percent and 1 percent of the vote, respectively.

Trudy Busch Valentine defeats 'populist' Lucas Kunce for Democratic nod

A registered nurse in Missouri, Busch Valentine asked voters to send her to the U.S. Senate while calling for "integrity and honesty and respect" in Washington. She was inspired to enter the race, she said, by two tragedies in her family — the death of her younger sister from a car accident when she was a teen and her son's death in 2020 from an opioid overdose — and to safeguard the future of her family, which includes six children and three grandchildren.

Busch Valentine has called for the end of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate, enshrining the right to an abortion in federal law, advancing more stringent gun safety measures and protection of voting rights. But she came under fire in the final weeks of the campaign for wavering answers on LGBTQ+ rights and education, as well as needing clarification on the landmark campaign finance Supreme Court decision Citizens United.

Her entrance into the race came just before the deadline to file for candidacy, and prompted former state Sen. Scott Sifton to immediately drop out and endorse her. In the months that followed, she was backed by a number of Democratic state lawmakers as well as other prominent officials including St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones.

She also attracted immediate criticism from the left-wing online publication The Intercept, which reported her attendance and prominent role at an all-white gala for the secretive Veiled Prophet Organization in 1977. Later reporting from The Intercept in May revealed a planned fundraiser from the National Rifle Association at Grant's Farm, the Busch family's property. The family's total wealth was estimated by Forbes magazine in 2020 to be $17.6 billion, among the largest fortunes in the United States.

Busch Valentine apologized for her role in the Veiled Prophet ball, saying she "failed to fully grasp the situation." She also said she persuaded the board of Grant's Farm to cancel the planned fundraiser, saying "you can always count on me to stand up to the gun lobby."

Kunce's failed bid for the nomination featured frequent national cable news appearances and sweeping criticisms of government and institutions. He advocated for a ban on members of Congress trading stocks; for returning investment and manufacturing to the U.S. through a "Marshall Plan for the Midwest"; and for the abolition of corporate PACs influencing politics. Kunce earned the endorsement Monday of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the two-time progressive presidential candidate who has similarly called for broad action against corporations and existing institutions.

More: Can a Democrat win back Missouri? How U.S. Senate candidates plan to win.

He contrasted himself to Busch Valentine by showing in advertisements the abandoned Jefferson City home where he grew up, talking about how his family went bankrupt due to a flood of expensive hospital bills. He referenced his time on tour in the Middle East when speaking about domestic issues — calling abortion bans the work of "Big Brother governments" like in "Iraq and Afghanistan."

"Thank you for fighting," Kunce wrote on Twitter after the race was called. "Never stop."

Spencer Toder, a St. Louis entrepreneur who focused on grassroots service and Democratic infrastructure in his campaign, earned fervent support online but failed to garner significant support in the final outcome. He earned under 5 percent of the vote.

Former Jan. 6 commission lawyer running as an independent

Libertarian Jonathan Dine and Constitution Party candidate Paul Venable, both of whom ran uncontested primaries, also will appear on ballots in November, along with independent conservative candidate and former Jan. 6 House committee lawyer John Wood.

More: John F. Wood, lawyer who left Jan. 6 panel, seeking Missouri US Senate seat

Former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, who is backing Wood, said in a statement Tuesday evening that "the choice is clear — more of the same, divisive politics as usual or something totally new."

"If you think that politics is broken, that each party is off-track, that by pandering to its extremes, it has polarized America, then you can do something about it," Danforth said. "You can send politicians a message that we are one united country. You can vote for John Wood for U.S. Senate."

Galen Bacharier covers Missouri politics & government for the News-Leader. Contact him at, (573) 219-7440 or on Twitter @galenbacharier.

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Eric Schmitt, Trudy Busch Valentine will face off in U.S. Senate race