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The candidates in Missouri's primary election

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Five states hold statewide primaries today. And one of the key races is in Missouri, where there's an open U.S. Senate seat. Now, most of the attention has been on the Republican side because one of the GOP candidates is causing some people in the party to worry that if he does win tonight, it could put the seat currently held by Republicans in jeopardy. Jason Rosenbaum covers politics for St. Louis Public Radio and joins us now. Welcome.

JASON ROSENBAUM, BYLINE: Thank you so much for having me.

CHANG: Thank you for being with us. OK, so let's start on the Republican side in that race. Real quick - who are the main candidates there?

ROSENBAUM: The major candidates thus far are Attorney General Eric Schmitt, former Governor Eric Greitens and current Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler. And Schmitt is someone who touts his legal efforts battling the Biden administration and has emerged as the candidate who many feel is poised to win. And that would be a relief to the Missouri Republican Party, who, as you mentioned, have been very worried that Eric Greitens could win.

CHANG: Right. And remind us why some Republicans are very worried about Greitens winning.

ROSENBAUM: Greitens resigned in 2018 in a torrent of scandal following sexual misconduct and campaign finance allegations. And there's new allegations in this campaign as his ex-wife alleged abuse of her and their son. And many Republicans throughout the state just feel he's too toxic to win and could cost the Republican Party a safe seat. Here's Eric Schmitt hammering that point home yesterday in Washington, Mo.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC SCHMITT: He will lose this seat. He's abused his wife and his kid, and he's quit on the people of the state. And it doesn't get any easier in Washington, D.C. If he quit on you before, he'll quit on you again.

ROSENBAUM: Now, I want to make it clear that Greitens has denied the abuse allegations. But his lead in the polls has withered away thanks to an avalanche of third-party ads highlighting his ex-wife's accusations. And ironically, Greitens' gubernatorial win in 2016 is credited to third-party ads that attacked his opponents.

CHANG: And then there was, like, this strange sort of non-endorsement from former President Trump yesterday, right? Like, what happened there?

ROSENBAUM: If this race needed to get any wilder, this takes the cake. One of the biggest parlor games in Missouri is who Trump would endorse in this race. And that's because Trump is wildly popular in the state. And candidates spent a lot of time and effort trying to win the former president's support. Yesterday, though, Trump endorsed Eric - yes, just the first name - as both Eric Greitens and Eric Schmitt share that name. And Trump said he was leaving it up to voters to decide, but he was basically punting on that decision. But both candidates publicized this endorsement, including Greitens...

CHANG: Wow.

ROSENBAUM: ...At a campaign stop yesterday in St. Louis County.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC GREITENS: President Trump's message on this has been extraordinarily clear. As everybody knows, I'm the MAGA champion in this race. Eric Schmitt's a RINO. President Trump said he wanted a warrior. I'm a Navy SEAL running against a career politician.

ROSENBAUM: And just for the listeners here, RINO, of course, is shorthand for Republicans In Name Only, a term used to describe members of the GOP who are insufficiently conservative. Greitens has made his disdain of the GOP establishment a major aspect of his campaign, which includes a widely condemned web ad where he stormed into a house with a gun with people dressed as soldiers hunting rhinos.

CHANG: OK. And real quick, what about the Democratic side in this race?

ROSENBAUM: The two major candidates are Trudy Busch Valentine, an Anheuser-Busch heir, and Lucas Kunce, a marine veteran and attorney. Most people agree, though, that if Schmitt or Hartzler win the nomination tonight, they're going to face an uphill battle in the fall because Democrats in Missouri have not pieced together a coalition to win statewide elections in quite some time.

CHANG: That is Jason Rosenbaum of St. Louis Public Radio. Thank you, Jason.

ROSENBAUM: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE PHARCYDE SONG, "SHE SAID") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Since entering the world of professional journalism in 2006, Jason Rosenbaum dove head first into the world of politics, policy and even rock and roll music. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Rosenbaum spent more than four years in the Missouri State Capitol writing for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri Lawyers Media and the St. Louis Beacon. Since moving to St. Louis in 2010, Rosenbaum's work appeared in Missouri Lawyers Media, the St. Louis Business Journal and the Riverfront Times' music section. He also served on staff at the St. Louis Beacon as a politics reporter. Rosenbaum lives in Richmond Heights with with his wife Lauren and their two sons.