Baltimore Sun

Greitens, backers shrug off scandals

Former governor of Mo. eyes US Senate seat for comeback

- By Jim Salter

ST. LOUIS — Eric Greitens resigned as Missouri governor amid criminal charges and legislativ­e investigat­ions, is accused by his ex-wife of abuse and bullying and has run a widely condemned ad suggesting he was hunting members of his own party with a gun.

And the Republican is still a leading contender for election to the U.S. Senate.

In the final weeks before the Aug. 2 primary, Greitens remains well positioned to clinch the nomination for the seat being vacated by Republican Roy Blunt. If anything, the onslaught of criticism has made Greitens even more popular among his followers. They say they either do not believe the allegation­s against him or care more about his overarchin­g message opposing the “radical left” and embracing former President Donald Trump.

“Every politician gets slammed for something or other,” Michael Moynihan, 74, said at a recent Greitens campaign appearance in Elsberry. “If you’re into politics, buddy, believe me, they’re going to come after you.”

Ron Lowrey, 71, a retired oil and gas geologist from St. Charles, likes Greitens’ resilience.

“He’s a fighter and he’s pushed through that, and that impresses me a lot,” Lowrey said.

The contest is emerging as the latest test of the GOP’s apparent willingnes­s to embrace deeply flawed candidates who, before the Trump era, may have struggled to win their party’s nomination. Some in the GOP, particular­ly those close to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, are watching the

dynamics closely, fearful that a Greitens victory could jeopardize the party’s ability to regain a Senate majority.

A new candidate is banking on the belief that Republican­s want an alternativ­e. Lifelong Republican John Wood, 52, a former U.S. attorney in Kansas City and most recently a top investigat­or for the U.S. House committee investigat­ing the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, announced his independen­t candidacy late last month. A super political action committee led by former GOP Sen. John Danforth of Missouri is pledging to spend $20 million to support him.

“I’m in this race to win it no matter who the Republican nominee is,” Wood said. “But I think it’ll be Eric Greitens, and Eric Greitens is a big part of the reason I decided to get into the race.”

Danforth’s PAC, Missouri Stands United, is spending $3 million on TV, radio, digital

and direct mail ads through July as Wood gathers signatures to get a spot on the ballot andsaiditw­illspendup­to$20 million through November.

“We are too divided, and politician­s are making it so,” Danforth says in one TV spot. “They are intentiona­lly dividing us. They’re appealing to the very worst in us. To our anger. They’re trying to push us into enemy camps. But we’re not enemies. We’re all one people. We’re Americans.”

Danforth takes responsibi­lity for some of that division. He was an early supporter of Missouri Republican Josh Hawley, who was elected to the Senate in 2018. But after Hawley’s Electoral College challenge to Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 presidenti­al victory, and after the insurrecti­on at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Danforth called supporting Hawley “the worst decision I’ve ever made in my life.”

Wood also alluded to the riot in his criticism of Greitens’ latest ad, a 38-second spot showing Greitens brandishin­g a shotgun and declaring he’s hunting RINOs — “Republican­s in name only.” Though Greitens said the spot was meant to be humorous, Facebook removed it. Twitter said it violated its rules about abusive behavior but left the post up because it was in the “public’s interest” for the tweet to be viewable. The company’s move prevented the post from being shared any further.

“If Jan. 6 taught us anything, it’s that words can inspire action,” Wood said. “I think there’s a risk that Eric Greitens’ words and conduct could inspire somebody to act in a violent way.”

Greitens, 48, is a former Navy SEAL officer and Rhodes scholar who was a year into his first term as governor when in January

2018 he confirmed a TV report about an extramarit­al affair in 2015 with his St. Louis hairdresse­r.

The scandal turned into a criminal matter when the St. Louis prosecutor charged Greitens with felony invasion of privacy, accusing him of taking a nude photo of the woman and threatenin­g to use it as blackmail if she spoke of their relationsh­ip.

Weeks later, a second charge accused Greitens of illegallyu­singadonor­listfrom a charity he founded to raise money for his campaign. An impeachmen­t investigat­ion began in the Missouri House.

The invasion-of-privacy charge was dropped in May 2018 amid concerns that the chief investigat­or and St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner mishandled the investigat­ion. Earlier this year, investigat­or William Tisaby pleaded guilty to misdemeano­r evidence tampering. Gardner is awaiting punishment from the Missouri Supreme Court, but is not expected to lose her law license. Greitens points to both in saying he was the victim of a political hit.

A special prosecutor examined the invasion of privacy case in June 2018 and said she believed the woman, but declined to file new charges. A House investigat­ion was still ongoing when Greitens resigned in June 2018. The campaign-finance-related charge was dropped when he stepped down.

Blunt’s announceme­nt in March 2021 that he would not seek reelection set the stage for a potentiall­y stunning comeback for Greitens. His main opponents are Attorney General Eric Schmitt and U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler.

Greitens has faced a series of scandals during this race.

In March, Sheena Greitens filed an affidavit in a child custody case accusing her ex-husband of abusing her and their two sons. She cited one instance where Eric Greitens cuffed their then 3-year-old son across the face and yanked him by the hair. In another, he allegedly pushed her to the ground.

Greitens denied the allegation­s and accused Sheena Greitens of colluding with Republican stalwarts such as McConnell to sabotage his campaign. Sheena Greitens said she worked with no one.

If Greitens’ campaign is worried about Wood’s candidacy, its leaders are not letting on.

“We encourage anyone who wants to get in the race to do so, especially any prosecutor­s from the sham January 6th Committee,” Greitens’ campaign manager, Dylan Johnson, said in a text. “Missouri is Trump Red and only an America First candidate like Governor Greitens will be the next U.S. Senator.”

Trump has yet to endorse in the race, but recently ruled out the potential of backing Hartzler.

 ?? DAVID A. LIEB/AP ?? Despite past scandals, onetime Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is a leading GOP contender for the U.S. Senate.
DAVID A. LIEB/AP Despite past scandals, onetime Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is a leading GOP contender for the U.S. Senate.

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