Former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens has enjoyed a healthy lead in the polling leading up to the Missouri Republican primary for U.S. Senate, but there are some signs that he’s on his way out, and his top contender is on his way up.
Two of Greitens’ opponents — Attorney General Eric Schmitt and U.S. Representative Vicky Hartzler — have been keeping it fairly close (or, in some cases, making it closer) for the last few weeks while Greitens’ share of the vote has gone down in the polls. The RealClearPolitics polling average has Schmitt within a couple of points of Greitens, and Hartzler is a few points behind Schmitt.
But aside from the polling, there is some data out there suggesting that Greitens may not be a lock and that his lead in the polls might be shifting soon. It seems that Democrats are more worried about the Attorney General than the former Governor, as they are now attacking Schmitt on abortion.
For perhaps the first time in five decades, when it comes to abortion rights, Democrats are playing offense. It started just a few days ago, after Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and Attorney General Eric Schmitt, both Republicans, implemented Missouri’s “trigger ban” on abortion, the one passed by the Legislature in 2019, with no exceptions for rape and incest.
Rep. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, the minority leader of the Missouri House, sent a letter to Schmitt asking him to weigh in on what the law actually says. She wants Schmitt, who is running for the U.S. Senate in a tightly contested primary, to issue an official opinion on whether the law protects access to birth control. Quade believes it does and has a legal analysis to back her view. But there is enough question in Missouri that some hospitals and physicians are skittish, considering the current political environment.
Democrats are pressing Schmitt to answer questions on the trigger ban for two reasons. The first is that they want voters to be as “skittish” on the question of birth control as the doctors and hospitals. The second is that, either way, they win. Either they can say they protected birth control by challenging the Attorney General or they hope that Schmitt goes “extreme” and claims it’s not protected. It’s not a trap, per se, but it is a situation they would like a victory in.
“The state’s new anti-abortion law is so extreme, Missourians are justified in worrying they could be sent to prison for merely taking birth control pills,” Quade wrote. “That is why it is imperative for the attorney general to unequivocally explain to all Missourians how he interprets the law and how he intends to enforce it.”
This was not a punt by Quade, but a full frontal assault on Schmitt’s defensive line. State Rep. Sarah Unsicker, D-Shrewsbury, sent a similar letter, asking for an official opinion on what constitutes a “medical emergency.”
But that they are targeting Schmitt on the issue of abortion and not Greitens is pretty important. They are posing these questions to him not just because he’s the Attorney General, but because they see him as a threat on the issue.
Greitens also seems to have made few friends with a recent ad that showed him “hunting RINOs,” and his previous positions on guns and gun control (especially in the wake of recent shootings and legislation) are enough to grant conservatives some pause. That’s why Schmitt has also dropped this ad, showing an agenda to fight the Democrats rather than his own party.
Greitens has focused on taking on the GOP establishment, while his opponents are focusing on taking on the Democrats. The better play is clear here. All polling indicates that voters typically see Biden (and, to a lesser extent, the Democratic Party) as the problem, and Schmitt is focusing on that to bring voters to his side.
Greitens can’t break away in the polls because of his past scandals, and it’s clear that, with only 24 percent of the primary vote, Republicans in the state want someone else. They just can’t seem to agree on who. Currently, that benefits Greitens but it looks like it may not be enough to save him before too long. Upon seeing the polling numbers, some of the candidates with a very small share of the vote could flip to Hartzler or Schmitt, and Schmitt seems the more likely choice (at the moment).