Paula Callihan hasn’t quite decided whom she’s voting for in Tuesday’s crowded GOP Senate primary. But she knows whom she’s not voting for.
“Eric Greitens scares the crap out of me,” the 67-year-old Joplin resident said last week in this southwest corner of the state. “A machine gun going through killing RINOs. I mean, that’s terrible,” she said, recalling the campaign video that depicted the former Republican governor “hunting” so-called “Republicans in Name Only.”
The candidacy of Greitens, who resigned in 2018 amid a sex scandal and accusations of campaign misconduct and is now facing allegations of abuse from his ex-wife, is a big reason why a Senate race in Missouri — a deeply red state — is even part of the national conversation about Washington control in a tough national environment for Democrats.
Greitens, who has denied those allegations, started the race to succeed retiring Sen. Roy Blunt with high name recognition. Only after a super PAC started attacking him on the air this summer did Republicans worried about Greitens losing to a Democrat — or perhaps even winning himself in November — begin to breathe a small sigh of relief.
The great unknown, however, has been former President Donald Trump, who announced Monday that he was endorsing “Eric,” without specifying a last name. Greitens, who is allied with Donald Trump Jr. and his fiancée, and state Attorney General Eric Schmitt were each quick to claim that they were the intended recipient of the endorsement.
“I trust the Great People of Missouri, on this one, to make up their own minds,” the former President added in his statement.
What voters are saying: In conversations with about 45 Missourians across the state, mostly Republicans, some said they were sticking by Greitens, and even those who weren’t expressed skepticism about the allegations. But the majority said they had issues with the candidate, ranging from “his baggage” to the fact that he was a “quitter” for resigning as governor.
“It’s a black eye for Missouri,” 42-year-old Matt Fischer, a Schmitt supporter, said at a rally for the attorney general at Tropical Liqueurs South in Columbia on Wednesday, adding that Greitens has already made “the state look bad.”
“I would have (considered Greitens) if he hadn’t had all of his baggage,” 68-year-old Debbie Brewer said at the Ozark Distillery and Brewery in Osage Beach after attending events for both Schmitt and Hartzler on Wednesday. “We don’t need that distraction.”
Still, there are degrees of skepticism among some voters about the allegations against Greitens. While some chalked up the most recent ones to an ugly divorce, others suggested, without evidence, that they were “just things being thrown at him” by political opponents, as one woman at the Watermelon Feed in Neosho put it.
“He got a raw deal when he was governor,” 72-year-old Charlie Henry said as he unloaded a case of Busch beer outside the Blue Springs Walmart.
Troy Pierson, 42, of Seneca, said at the Watermelon Feed that he was leaning toward Greitens in the primary but has some reservations over the candidate’s 2018 resignation: “Him doing that makes you wonder whether or not he will stand up and fight, which is a concern, because that’s what we need.”
Disappointment with Greitens for resigning is a familiar refrain, and it’s one Schmitt has made a big part of his closing argument.
“He abused his wife and his kid — assaulted his child — and he quit on Missouri,” Schmitt said at his Columbia rally. “This man is a quitter. And when going gets tough, he got going.”
Read more about Greitens and the Missouri Senate race here.