Eric Greitens’ Senate campaign is racking up more backlash by the day. His once allies are turning on him—with some calling on the former Republican governor to drop out. And Democrats in the state are practically salivating at the thought of a former governor who resigned in disgrace being their competition this fall.
And though Missouri Democrats argue they have plenty to offer, in a state that went to former President Trump by 15 points in 2020, it doesn’t hurt their cause to simply be the anti-Greitens option.
“[Greitens’] twistedness and his crookedness and his criminality—like, that’s going to be used against folks in this state... It’s something that people are worried about,” said Lucas Kunce, a Marine veteran and candidate for the Missouri Democratic nomination for Senate.
In recent years, the once purple-ish state of Missouri has trended steadily red. But Democrats never lost hope that the Show Me State would turn blue again, and they’re eyeing the open Senate seat created by Sen. Roy Blunt’s (R-MO) retirement as their comeback.
And while the Republican primary is still buzzing with Senate hopefuls, including former Jan. 6 investigator John Wood and Mark McCloskey, who went viral in 2020 for waving a gun in his front yard at Black Lives Matter protestors, Greitens is running the field.
Trudy Busch Valentine, another contender for the Democratic nomination, told The Daily Beast she believes swaying Missourians to vote for a Democrat this cycle starts with conversations about the character of candidates. “That's what really matters. And we have to get back to integrity, and respect and honesty, and an ability to debate and then go back by ourselves or with other people.”
Asked if Greitens’ past should be a part of that conversation, Busch Valentine said “I think that’s so important.”
Busch Valentine went on to outline her disgust with Greitens’ recent ads, the most controversial of which have personified him as a gun-slinging vigilante handing out “RINO hunting permits,” playing on the politico slang for Republicans In Name Only.
“It doesn't make any sense to me at all,” she said.
Kunce, meanwhile, has been running ads of his own where Greitens is the focus—plastering headlines about Greitens controversies across the screen. In an ad that leads Kunce’s campaign website’s homepage, he labels Greitens as his “Republican opponent” and calls to “lock him up.”
And both Kunce and Busch Valentine have tied their alleged ability to beat Greitens in a general election to their argument on why Democrats should choose them in the primary election. While Kunce has positioned himself as a populist running to fight for the little guy, Busch Valentine has built a brand as a pragmatist dealmaker who could appeal to voters in the middle.
Kunce said he’s “absolutely” sure he’s the best candidate to beat Greitens in November, should they both win the nomination.
Asked if she believes she’d be the best candidate to beat Greitens in November, Busch Valentine said, “I probably would. I hope I would.”
Yet, those in Greitens’ orbit dismissed the idea that he would give Democrats an advantage as nonsense.
“None of the Democrat challengers pose a threat because Missouri is a solid Trump state,” a senior political operative working for the Greitens campaign told The Daily Beast. “Independent polling shows Governor Greitens with a bigger lead against a Democrat than the two sitting Missouri senators in their last elections.”
Similarly, Greitens’ campaign manager Dylan Johnson tossed cold water on Democrats vying for the seat.
“Missouri is one of the most pro-Trump states in the nation. The radical leftist Democrats are the party of delusional Joe Biden and ditzy Kamala Harris,” he told The Daily Beast. “Polls have consistently shown that Governor Greitens will handily defeat any Democrat by the largest Missouri Senate margin in over a decade.”
Mounting energy from Democrats eager to take on Greitens would be the latest of his problems. In Greitens’ world, the embattled campaign continues to face turbulence.
Last Wednesday, a former longtime friend and fellow former Navy officer posted a scathing video to Twitter, calling on the former governor, who resigned from that post in the wake of allegations of abuse from a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair, to step out of his current primary race.
“Eric, what you are doing now is going to get someone killed,” Greitens’ former pal and once Democratic candidate Ken Harbaugh said. “Do the right thing. Drop out.”
Instead of ignoring the video, the campaign fought back.
“Ken is obviously a disturbed individual hoping to profit from his former friendship with the governor for forty seconds of the leftist spotlight. He has now taken his grift to the Lincoln Project and the Obama Bros to peddle his weakness after being trounced in his Ohio congressional race. Ken obviously can’t stand to see others do well, so he tries to drag down the successful,” a Greitens campaign spokesperson told The Daily Beast. “In the end, his cringeworthy, jealous, and silly video shows the world who he truly is.”
Despite the continued calls for Greitens to drop out, little has changed regarding former President Trump’s thinking on the race, as his extremely politically involved son Donald Trump Jr. continues to urge him to stay out of the controversial battle until the primary has concluded.
“While Don has made it known that he is a fan of Greitens personally, he basically thinks that the best move for his dad strategically is to just sit back and let the primary unfold without jumping in for anyone,” a source familiar with Don Jr.’s thinking told The Daily Beast at the end of June.
Since that late June report from The Daily Beast, little has changed, according to sources familiar with Trump’s thinking on issuing an endorsement ahead of the primary. But Trump last week did say publicly that he will not endorse Rep. Vicky Hartzler, posting on his Truth Social account that he doesn’t think she “has what it takes to take on the Radical Left Democrats.”
After Trump ripped into her, Hartzler has since publicly fired back.
“Well, I think the president’s been listening to some of my opponents,” she said on Newsmax Monday afternoon.
While Trump staying out of the race for the time being might be neither good nor bad news for Greitens’ camp, on Wednesday afternoon, the campaign doubled down on a previous controversy involving a violently-themed “RINO-hunting” television ad, with yet again another ad striking a similar tone.
“Because I fought for you, they came after me,” Greitens said while carrying a firearm.
With approximately a month until voters head to the polls, polling conducted at the end of June indicates that the race is neck and neck.
Greitens does face not only Democratic rivals that look to capitalize on his blunders but also a field of fervently pro-Trump primary rivals. Those challengers include Rep. Billy Long (R-MO) and closest polling rival Eric Schmitt.
Schmitt, a local favorite and Missouri’s current attorney general, has enlisted D.C. consultant Jeff Roe, credited with Governor Glenn Youngkin’s victory in Virginia, to court Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
A Trump spokesperson didn’t return The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
Elsewhere, fellow gun-toting Republican primary challenger Mark McCloskey, who rose to infamy after brandishing a firearm outside his Missouri home as Black Lives Matter demonstrations marched in their ritzy neighborhood, remains the least of Greitens’ worries in the race as remains polling in the single digits.
“Mark will never back down and never give in to tyranny,” McCloskey posted to Twitter with a picture of himself carrying a gun following the July 4th mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, “and he will always stand up to defend our constitution and freedoms!”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the accusations made against Greitens by his ex-wife.