Missouri GOP contenders distance themselves from McConnell

As the Missouri Senate primary draws to a close, all three leading Republican candidates are making it clear that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will not have their support if elected.

There are 21 Republicans up for election on Tuesday, with former Gov. Eric Greitens, Attorney General Eric Schmitt and US Rep. Vicky Hartzler believed to be the leading contenders. Eleven Democrats are running.

The Missouri nominees are among the conservative Senate hopefuls who have rallied behind former President Donald Trump, who has attacked McConnell and advocated a new leadership of the Senate if Republicans win back the chamber in November. Trump remains popular in Missouri but didn’t endorse anyone in the primary.

Greitens, who resigned in 2018 amid a scandal, has said throughout the campaign he wants to oust McConnell.

Schmitt said Wednesday in Columbia that McConnell did not support him, “and I do not support him for leadership,” KOMU-TV reported.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler was more effusive.

“I’m not going to support him,” Hartzler told The Associated Press during a campaign stop Thursday in Pevely. “We need real conservatives to fight for our values ​​and stop this train wreck, stop President Biden, stop (Senate Majority Leader Chuck) Schumer, stop (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi and save our country.”

One possible replacement she mentioned: Josh Hawley, who raised his fist to salute protesters before the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riots and became the first Republican senator to announce he would object to certification of the 2020 election . Hawley has endorsed Hartzler, who was among the 147 House Republicans who voted against certification.

The candidates spend the last few days making their closing arguments in a race in which many voters are still undecided. Among them is Dione Parrish, 53, who plans to vote in the GOP primary and attend Schmitt’s rally in Colombia.

“We’ve been betrayed many times in the past, particularly by Republicans,” Parrish said. “They say the right things and know the language, and then they betray us. So I’m really searching, trying to look deeper and deeper so that doesn’t happen.”

Schmitt painted himself as a fighter for the people, citing his penchant for lawsuits, including mask mandates. President Joe Biden’s administration was a common target.

“My job as attorney general is pretty simple: I get up in the morning, go to work, sue Joe Biden and go home,” Schmitt said to applause. “I wake up the next day and do it all over again.”

Hartzler focuses on social issues, including her opposition to abortion.

Greitens, the normally brazen former Navy SEAL officer convicted in June for making a campaign video in which he brandishes a shotgun and says he’s hunting RINOs or Republicans in name only, takes a softer approach to the track.

A campaign email focused on his accomplishments during his year and a half as governor, citing job growth, lower taxes and tougher laws for those who attack the police. The campaign also released a video montage of black and white photos with the message: “This Missouri movement is fueled by love, not hate.”

On the Democrat side, there was an eyebrow-raising comment from one of the frontrunners in the last few days of the campaign.

Trudy Busch Valentine, a retired nurse and heir to the Busch Beer family fortune, was asked about transgender youth during a meeting with local Democrats in St. Louis.

“I would just say wait until 18 when a person is an adult to do anything that wouldn’t allow for maybe being the gender you were again,” Valentine replied, according to a video posted to Twitter. “But other than that, without a doubt, I’m totally, totally supportive of transgender people.”

Her leading opponent, Marine veteran Lucas Kunce, called Valentine’s comments “callous and dangerous”.

“These are Republican talking points,” Kunce told The Associated Press. “This goes against the weakest in our society, who need the most protection.”

Valentine said in a statement to the AP that she believes “transgender children should have access to gender-affirming care, as recommended by medical experts like the American Academy of Pediatrics.” The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association support the possibility of children seeking transgender medicine but do not provide age-specific guidance.

Kunce spends the final days of the campaign reminding voters of his working-class roots.

“If you want someone who wants to fundamentally transform power in this country, I’m your man,” he said. “I think it’s about time Missourians had someone who knew what it was like to grow up and live like this.”

Valentine’s campaign said it is hearing from people about their financial woes and concerns about access to abortion. The campaign said Valentine “provides sensible solutions to these problems and runs a campaign rooted in her values ​​of honesty, integrity and compassion.”

Long considered a swing state, Missouri has made a decided move to the right over the past decade. The Republican winner is favored in November, although GOP leaders fear a Greitens win in the primary could open the door to a Democratic upset.

Greitens’ first term was derailed by a sex scandal and two criminal charges – one over allegedly compromising photos of the woman and one over alleged campaign finance violations. Both charges were dropped, but at the risk of being charged again and facing possible impeachment, he resigned in June 2018. He and his wife divorced in 2020.

In an affidavit in March amid a custody battle, Sheena Greitens accused her ex-husband of molestation and wrote that he displayed such “unstable and coercive behavior” when his political career seemed to be collapsing in 2018 that steps were taken to prevent his access to restrict fire arms.

Greitens denies the allegations.

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AP reporter Summer Ballentine from Columbia, Missouri, contributed to this report.

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