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Archive for August 2022

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Travis Fitzwater believes relationships are key to a functioning Missouri Senate

With the party nominees officially selected for the November election, Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, is one of several candidates who should have an easier time winning in a few months compared to their primary.

Fitzwater, who is the Republican nominee for the 10th Senate District, fended off four other candidates to win with almost 32% of the vote.

Now, with no Democrat in the race, Fitzwater must defeat Libertarian candidate Catherine Dreher in order to begin his career as a state senator in a district that includes a portion of St. Charles County and extends west to near Columbia.

Fitzwater joined the Politically Speaking podcast to talk about his candidacy and goals for the Senate.

Here are some of the things Fitzwater discussed:

  • How he won his primary. Polling showed Fitzwater’s chief opponent, Mike Carter, ahead for most of the campaign.
  • His thoughts on the future of the Missouri Senate, where a faction of the Republican Party has frequently clashed with Senate leadership.  
  • What policies he wants to focus on.
  • Gov. Mike Parson’s call for a special session on tax cuts, including a recent meeting on the issue that Fitzwater attended.

Fitzwater currently represents Missouri’s 49th House District, which includes parts of Callaway and Cole counties. He was first elected in 2014 and could no longer run for reelection in the House due to term limits.

Outside of the legislature, Fitzwater has worked in nonprofit management as a marketing coordinator and chief operating officer. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science, focusing on international relations, from Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina.

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Sarah Kellogg on Twitter: @sarahkkellogg

Follow Travis Fitzwater on Twitter: @travisfitzwater

Travis Fitzwater believes relationships are key to a functioning Missouri Senate
https://news.stlpublicradio.org/podcast/politically-speaking/2022-08-09/travis-fitzwater-believes-relationships-are-key-to-a-functioning-missouri-senate
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John Wood on why he can win as an independent Missouri U.S. Senate candidate

For John Wood, Tuesday’s results in Missouri’s closely watched U.S. Senate primaries don’t change much about his candidacy for the post as an independent.

Wood recently turned in signatures to appear on the ballot in the race to succeed Sen. Roy Blunt. The former U.S. attorney and counsel for the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection believes he can provide a different option for voters who generally hold conservative political views but don’t like how many Republicans embraced the idea that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.

“If the voters didn’t have an independent candidate, they would be forced to choose between on the Republican side someone who is very extreme and very divisive and an election denier,” Wood said on an episode of St. Louis Public Radio’s Politically Speaking podcast. “And on the Democratic side, somebody who would support Chuck Schumer for majority leader — as well as the Biden-Schumer-Pelosi policy agenda. And that’s really out of step with what most Missourians want.”

Wood launched his candidacy for the Senate earlier this year and is being backed by a political action committee spending millions of dollars. Former U.S. Sen. John Danforth endorsed Wood’s candidacy, and the Republican has appeared in television ads supporting his former aide’s bid.

Danforth said in a statement on Tuesday that “John Wood is the most qualified Senate candidate by a mile.”

But with Attorney General Eric Schmitt winning the nomination, many are questioning whether Wood will have much of an impact in a race that also includes Democrat Trudy Busch Valentine. That’s because most observers felt that Wood could only change the dynamics of the contest if former Gov. Eric Greitens became the GOP nominee, since Greitens’ scandals may have given voters second thoughts about him.

Wood said the top three finishers in the Republican primary — Schmitt, Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler and Greitens — were “really running the same campaigns.”

“They were all trying to be as far right as possible,” Wood said. “There’s not so much to read into it, other than they all thought that the best way to get the nomination was to be as extreme and divisive as possible — and to try and follow in Trump’s footsteps as much as possible. So no matter which of the three ended up winning, that would have still been the same message that would come out of it.”


Wood holds conservative political views

Wood emphasized that he holds fairly conservative political views. For one thing, he said the U.S. Supreme Court made the right decision in striking down Roe v. Wade, which effectively banned most legal abortions in Missouri.

He added, though, that he supports exceptions for people who are the victims of rape or incest or experiencing medical emergencies. But he stopped short of saying he supports a federal law for those exceptions everywhere, adding that he’d rather see the Missouri law amended.

Wood also said he would vote for Sen. Mitch McConnell to remain the Republican leader in the Senate. Greitens made his opposition to McConnell a focal point of his campaign, while Schmitt has said he “doesn’t endorse the Kentucky senator” for leadership.

McConnell played a role in Missouri’s primary, as his political organization donated millions of dollars to a political action committee that’s credited with beginning Greitens’ descent.

“I think perhaps if Greitens had become the nominee, fundraising might have been a little bit easier,” Wood said. “Because there’s a lot of people who would have said, ‘Eric Greitens, given his personal baggage, can’t serve in the U.S. Senate.’ But the message that we’re hearing from Eric Schmitt is really the same, whether it’s Eric Schmitt or Eric Greitens.”

He also said he would have been against the American Rescue Plan Act and the scuttled Build Back Better spending plan. And he likely would have voted against an infrastructure bill that the retiring Blunt supported.

“Ideologically, I just don’t align with the Democrats,” Wood said. “I believe in limited government. I believe in keeping taxes low. I believe in fiscal responsibility. I believe in strong law enforcement, a strong national defense, and judges who are going to interpret the law and not make the law. So I just wouldn’t fit in the Democratic Party, because I just don’t believe in the same things they do.”


Can an independent candidate stand out?

Missourians have typically not embraced statewide candidates who are not part of the Republican or Democratic Party.

In 2018, independent Craig O’Dear made almost no impact in the Missouri Senate race between Republican Josh Hawley and Democrat Claire McCaskill. In fact, the only non-major party candidate who got above 6% of the vote was Libertarian Jonathan Dine, who reached that threshold in 2012 when McCaskill easily defeated Republican Todd Akin.

Wood said, “This race is different from all the other races, including Craig O’Dear.” In particular, he wants to compare his service on the Jan. 6 committee to unsuccessful litigation Schmitt was part of that sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

“And I have the support of Sen. Danforth. And that includes not just the tremendous reputational support that he brings to table, but also significant financial resources,” Wood said.

Independent candidates in other states, such as Greg Orman in Kansas, started their respective campaigns much sooner than Wood did. But Wood said he has no regrets about not jumping into the contest sooner, adding that Missourians will likely be paying more attention now that the primary election is over.

“One, the work I was doing on the January 6th committee was extremely important, and so I thought it was important that I continue to do that up until I did,” Wood said. “I don’t think that there would have been a lot of attention to the general election until after the primaries, no matter how early I started.”

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Steve Vockrodt on Twitter: @stevevockrodt 

Follow John Wood on Twitter: @JohnWoodMO

John Wood on why he can win as an independent Missouri U.S. Senate candidate
https://news.stlpublicradio.org/podcast/politically-speaking/2022-08-05/john-wood-on-why-he-can-win-as-an-independent-missouri-u-s-senate-candidate
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Schmitt’s dominating win and 7 other takeaways from Missouri’s primary election

Missouri Republicans were worried that a crowded primary would jeopardize their chances of keeping a U.S. Senate seat in the fall.

But it didn’t take long for the state’s GOP stalwarts to breathe a sigh of relief, thanks to a dominating win from Attorney General Eric Schmitt in one of the wildest U.S. Senate primaries in recent memories.

Schmitt was widely seen as a safer choice than former Gov. Eric Greitens. While the results may suggest that the path to victory for Schmitt was easy, it most certainly wasn’t.

And while incumbents dominated congressional and state legislative contests, there were a few surprises — including some on a local level that could be consequential in the years to come.

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A crowded primary didn’t stop a massive Schmitt victory

The size of the Republican Senate field was one of the biggest reasons national and state Republicans were worried about a Greitens victory.

There were more than 21 Republican candidates to succeed U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt. But there were six major ones: Schmitt, Greitens, U.S. Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Billy Long, attorney Mark McCloskey and Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz. Some were worried Greitens would eek out a small plurality thanks to the relatively unprecedented number of viable contenders.

That didn’t happen. Long, Schatz and McCloskey were nonfactors. And Schmitt dominated in most parts of the state, including previous Greitens strongholds like southeast Missouri. Hartzler ended up winning a number of counties on her western side of the state, but it wasn’t enough to even come close.

There are a lot of reasons for Schmitt’s success. But one could be that he had the direct and indirect fundraising for a massive television and radio campaign. And that clearly trumped what support Greitens had among Republicans who were attracted to his anti-establishment message.

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Greitens defeated by his own strategy

Greitens was leading in most public opinion polls throughout the contest. But his fortunes took a nosedive after a flurry of advertisements from a political action committee known as Show Me Values.

These ads highlighted allegations from his ex-wife, Sheena Greitens, who accused him of abusing her and their son. While Greitens denied these claims, neither his campaign nor his associated political action committees had enough money to effectively respond, which basically meant the anti-Greitens messaging was being largely undefended.

Greitens won the GOP gubernatorial primary in 2016 with the help of millions of dollars’ worth of third-party ads largely funded through mysterious sources. When asked on Monday whether his own strategy was being used effectively against him, Greitens sidestepped the question and instead accused Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of conspiring against him.

“It’s very clear, because I was the first guy in the country to say that I’m voting against Mitch McConnell,” Greitens said at a campaign stop in Chesterfield.

It was easy to dismiss that remark as standard campaign fare. But as Politico revealed on Tuesday night, McConnell’s political operation donated prodigiously to the Show Me Values PAC.

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Trump’s endorsement really didn’t matter

The biggest parlor game in Missouri politics over the past year and a half was whether former President Donald Trump would endorse someone in the Senate race. After all, Trump is wildly popular among Missouri Republican primary voters, and his blessing would likely give a candidate a big advantage.

Trump did eventually decide who he was going to back on the day before the primary: ERIC. Not specifically Eric Schmitt or Eric Greitens. And probably not also-ran candidate Eric McElory. Just ERIC, which meant that Trump was punting on whether to only back Schmitt or Greitens.

It seems a bit of a stretch to argue that the ERIC endorsement made much of a difference in the outcome. Even if Trump picked between the Erics, it would have likely been way too late to stop Schmitt from winning and stall Greitens’ freefall.

Still, Trump did have some impact on the race. His decision to issue an anti-endorsement of Hartzler hurt the six-term congresswoman’s cause. And that provides a bit of a setback to U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, who went out on a political limb to back Hartzler’s candidacy.

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November election will determine whether St. Louis County gridlock continues

The best way to classify elections for St. Louis County-based offices would be weird.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page cruised to victory in the Democratic primary over Jane Dueker. But an expected general election showdown with GOP state Rep. Shamed Dogan isn’t happening, because he lost to Katherine Pinner, who doesn’t have a fundraising committee, and isn’t as well known as the Ballwin Republican.

Barring a miraculous boost in fundraising and name recognition, Page will be heavily favored to win a full four-year term in November. But that doesn’t mean life will be easy, since one of his critics, Councilwoman Rita Days, easily won reelection over challenger Terry Wilson.

If former Fenton Mayor Dennis Hancock defeats former state Rep. Vicki Englund in the 3rd District race this fall, Page will likely not have a coalition of reliable allies on the council — which could make the next couple of years rough for him.

US Congresswoman Cori Bush (D-St. Louis County) greets voters outside a polling location at Hazelwood City Hall on Aug. 2, 2022, in Hazelwood.


Bush’s dominating performance means she’ll be hard to beat

When Cori Bush defeated incumbent Lacy Clay in the 2020 primary, she won with 48.5% of the vote, not quite 3 percentage points more than Clay. Two years later with a primary challenger, the question was whether the first-term congresswoman had gained enough approval from constituents to hold on to her seat.

The answer was a resounding yes. Bush dominated, earning nearly 70% of the vote. Her main opponent, state Sen. Steve Roberts, only garnered around 27%.

While Roberts attacked Bush on both her voting record and what he believed was not enough legislating, voters clearly did not agree that Bush was not serving her district well.

Bush is likely to win again in November in the heavily Democratic district and secure her second term. By winning as big as she did on Tuesday, Bush solidified her position and the odds of a different Democrat beating her in future reelection races seems unlikely.

Trudy Busch Valentine, Democrat running for U.S. Senate, gives a speech after winning in the Missouri’s Primary election at the Sheet Metal Workers SMART Local Union No. 36. on Tuesday August 2, 2022.


Leading in fundraising doesn’t guarantee a win 

Lucas Kunce, a Democratic candidate for Missouri’s open U.S. Senate seat, not only outraised his fellow Democrats, but also Republican candidates.

According to the Federal Election Commission, Kunce raised more than $4 million in individual contributions, with about $2.8 million in contributions of $200 or less. Comparatively, Trudy Busch Valentine raised around $72,000 in the same category.

But despite leading in fundraising, Kunce ultimately fell to Busch Valentine, who largely self-funded her campaign.

On the Republican side, while victor Schmitt had the highest financial total of around $3.6 million, Greitens had the most in individual donations with nearly $2 million. 

Trish Gunby, Democratic congressional candidate for MO-02, looks to her son and Communications Director Kyle Gunby


Ann Wagner’s easy victory means an uphill battle for Democrats

Trish Gunby handily won her primary to be the Democratic nominee for Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District, capturing 85% of the vote.

But now Gunby faces the tough challenge of running against incumbent Republican Ann Wagner, who also won her primary on Tuesday.

Wagner has represented the district since 2013 and last year won reelection with 52% of the vote in a district that at the time was considered attainable for Democrats.

But now, the odds are even more in Wagner’s favor. Through the congressional redistricting process, Missouri lawmakers strengthened Republican support within the 2nd Congressional District, making it less competitive.

Gunby flipped the current seat she holds in the Missouri House of Representatives, but it’s unclear if she can do the same thing on a larger scale.

Ben Brown


The Conservative Caucus will likely grow in the state Senate

The Missouri Senate is expected to continue to be fractious as the Conservative Caucus is likely to pick up a few more seats.

This past session, the caucus, which usually consisted of seven of the 34 total senators, clashed with Republican leadership on several policy fronts, including redistricting and the state budget.

That friction is likely set to continue after several Republican victories on Tuesday.

Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman won the nomination for Senate District 22, which contains part of Jefferson County. The seat was held by Paul Wieland before his term ended. Wieland, though not a member of the caucus, would align with its members occasionally on votes.

In an upset, Sen. Bill White was defeated in his primary by Jill Carter. White had served as assistant majority floor leader. Carter said she was the more conservative choice.

Sen. Bob Onder, a member of the Conservative Caucus, was term-limited from running again, but his pick, Rep. Nick Schroer, won his primary. Schroer’s victory is another rebuff to Republican leadership, as his opponent John Wiemann served as speaker pro tem.

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Sarah Kellogg on Twitter: @sarahkkellogg

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Schmitt’s dominating win and 7 other takeaways from Missouri’s primary election
https://news.stlpublicradio.org/podcast/politically-speaking/2022-08-03/schmitts-dominating-win-and-7-other-takeaways-from-missouris-primary-election
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