Eric Schmitt sued Kansas City over its mask mandate during the height of the pandemic. He sued St. Louis after it said it would use federal funds to help women travel to get abortions after Missouri banned them. And he filed a lawsuit to block student loan debt forgiveness.
Schmitt, the Missouri attorney general and Republican nominee for a U.S. Senate seat, is favored over Democrat Trudy Busch Valentine to prevail on Nov. 8. But how he would represent all parts of the state if he is elected is a question mark for some and a worry for others who perceive Schmitt as being openly hostile toward Democratic-leaning areas while he was attorney general.
The winner of next week’s election will replace retiring GOP Sen. Roy Blunt, who sat as a top Republican on the Republican Policy Committee and Senate Rules Committee. Blunt also served in a key post on the Senate Appropriations Committee and has been a strong advocate for Missouri getting its fair share of federal funding.
In 2020, Blunt secured $15 million in Department of Transportation grants for Kansas City. He was praised for increasing funding available to the National Institutes of Health to use for research and for securing 20 years worth of funding for programs in the Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2018, Missouri’s senior senator won a Voices for National Service Congressional Service Award for his work to keep AmeriCorps programs alive in the face of federal defunding under the Trump administration.
Now, political onlookers say securing similar large-dollar funding opportunities for Kansas City may be up in the air, given Schmitt’s perceived antipathy towards the state’s metro areas while he served as attorney general and Sen. Josh Hawley’s possible presidential aspirations.
Schmitt’s campaign recently went on the air with an attack ad against Busch Valentine, which features images of “big city liberals” such as Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, St. Louis Mayor Tishuara Jones and St. Louis-area U.S. Rep. Cori Bush.
“Trudy Busch Valentine supports their radical anti-cop agenda. Trudy Busch Valentine is liberal on crime,” the ad narrates.
Lucas said Blunt’s dedication to serve all parts of Missouri may be hard to come by in what will likely be Missouri’s next Senate delegation.
“Sen. Blunt comes from a generation of people that somehow don’t win Republican primaries anymore,” Lucas said in an interview. “There are people who want to actually get things done, be productive and bring more jobs. What they did not do was run an ad attacking Kansas City. They never ran an ad attacking St. Louis.”
Lucas said although he and Blunt have different opinions on many issues, he believes that Blunt had Kansas City’s best interests at heart.
“Yes, I have different views on LGBTQ rights, on abortion, on any number of issues,” Lucas continued. “But, I believe he wanted Kansas City to be the best possible place that it can be. I’ve never heard that from Eric Schmitt.”
Previously a member of the Missouri state Senate, Schmitt sponsored a number of bipartisan bills that were signed into law. He worked on issues like municipal court reform and traffic violations and sponsored a bill that would reform the law surrounding fraud protections for senior citizens. But Schmitt was also named the head of a committee to investigate Planned Parenthood in 2015, and later, as attorney general, he became the first signature required to ban abortion in Missouri this summer.
Schmitt served a stint as state treasurer and was appointed to the state’s attorney general post in late 2018 after Hawley vacated the office to serve in the U.S. Senate. Schmitt was officially elected to the attorney general’s seat in 2020. Now, Schmitt is attempting to follow the road Hawley took to Washington.
Schmitt filed his statement of candidacy for the U.S. Senate on April 1, 2021, which meant he was officially actively campaigning from that point on while serving as attorney general, a post that allows him to bring national narratives, like mask mandate opposition and anti-abortion stances, into litigation against cities, school districts or the federal government.
University of Missouri political science professor Peverill Squire pointed to the shift in Schmitt’s style since becoming attorney general.
“You can sort of think of him as having a split personality in terms of his political career,” Squire said. “When he was in the state Senate, he was of course conservative, but he did accomplish some things. He was willing to work through the legislative process, and as attorney general he has been highly partisan, very ideological.”
Squire added: “He has gone off on a lot of tangents that allowed him to sort of make political appeals to a conservative base, but really haven’t done much in terms of advantage in the state.”
It remains unclear what sort of persona Schmitt will take on when he is back in a legislative role, and how he will work alongside Hawley.
“Hawley seems more interested in positioning himself ideologically on issues than working through the legislative process to produce results for the state,” Squire said.
Lucas told The Beacon he still thinks there’s room for Democratic victories at the top of the ticket. Polling shows the Democratic nominee, a nurse and granddaughter of the Anheuser-Busch family, an average of 10 percentage points behind Schmitt.
But if Schmitt wins, Lucas said he is prepared to build a relationship with his office. He can also lean on other members of Congress or officeholders who have a vested interest in the success of the metro. That could potentially include Democratic U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly or Kansas 2nd District Rep. Sharice Davids, all of whom are up for reelection. Even Kansas’ senior senator, Republican Jerry Moran, can be an ally, Lucas said, because he has a style similar to Blunt’s. Moran is favored in his reelection bid.
“I work with anybody. I talk to the office of Sen. Hawley with some regularity. If you haven’t been able to notice I almost never tweet about him, he doesn’t tweet about me either. It’s fairly nice,” Lucas said.
He also pointed to Missouri’s historically red 4th Congressional District, where Rep. Vicky Hartzler is vacating the office after losing to Schmitt in the U.S. Senate primary. Former TV anchor Mark Alford pivoted to politics and became the district’s GOP nominee. Alford aligned himself with the traditional campaign themes that have dominated this cycle, citing his support for “America first” policies, election integrity and “making America great again.”
Lucas said he wasn’t sure what to expect with Alford in Congress, but he was at least encouraged by his long career covering issues in Kansas City.
“In a race where you don’t know what you’ll get, at least there’s the guy who read news about Kansas City every day for 25 years, and understands our issues,” he said.
Squire said Alford is focusing more on ideology in the campaign, similar to Schmitt, while Hartzler, still very conservative, was focused on issues.
“I think for Missouri – to the extent that the delegation is skewed heavily towards people who are more concerned with making ideological points than securing legislative victories – it will probably hurt the state,” Squire said.
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