Missouri Republicans sound the alarm on a scandal-plagued, resurgent Eric Greitens: 'Damaged goods'

Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Tribune News Service via Getty Images, FILE

(ST. LOUIS, Mo.)  — Penelope Quigg is a lifelong Republican voter.

But the chair of the Republican Party in Cole County, Missouri, said she won’t vote for Eric Greitens, her state’s former governor, if he wins the party’s nomination this summer for an open Senate seat. Greitens — once disgraced — is now leading a resurgent campaign four years after he resigned amid a criminal investigation and the threat of impeachment, admitting to an extramarital affair but denying other claims that ultimately included alleged abuse of his ex-wife.

“Everything about him I question,” said Quigg, one of four county GOP chairs who told ABC News that they would not vote for Greitens in the general election — even if it means risking a Democratic victory in a state former President Donald Trump carried by more than 15% in 2020.

Quigg isn’t alone: Interviews with nearly a dozen current and former Republican Party leaders in Missouri, where voting in the Senate primary began this week, revealed a broad distaste for Greitens and a hesitation by many in the establishment to support him were he to win the nod on Aug. 2.

So what? says his campaign, which touted his allegiance to former President Donald Trump. “Greitens is doing exactly what he needs to do to win over voters,” his campaign manager Dylan Johnson said in a statement. “He’s holding grassroots events multiple times a week. He’s leading the conversation on the America First agenda.”

McDonalds Is Hiring

But the officials who spoke with ABC News nearly all expressed a belief that a Greitens win in the primary race would put the Senate seat, opened by retiring Republican Roy Blunt, in jeopardy of falling into Democratic hands — even in a national environment that favors the conservatives seeking to regain Congress.

Those concerns were underscored on Monday when Greitens’ campaign released an instantly controversial video ad showing him armed with an assault rifle and backed by weapon-carrying men dressed in camouflage to storm into a house to hunt “RINOs,” or Republicans in name only.

Many of the Republicans interviewed by ABC News condemned Greitens’ video, calling it “demented” and “tasteless” and they are worrying it could incite violence.

“It’s absolutely horrible,” said Gary Grunick, chair of the Republican Party in Lincoln County, northwest of St. Louis. “And I’m a gun person. I’ve got plenty of guns around. It’s just totally irresponsible.”

Rene Artman, a member of the Missouri Republican Party’s executive committee, told ABC News: “I’m quite concerned because I feel that there could be people who take him seriously. You don’t make comments like that in today’s climate with what’s going on.”

“I’m all in favor of the Second Amendment. If you want a gun, you can have a gun,” added Artman, who serves as the party chair in the state’s biggest county, St. Louis. “But for Greitens to use the word ‘MAGA’ and to call for the ‘hunting’ of ‘RINOs’ is a total disgrace and he needs to step down.”

Facebook removed the video and Twitter hid it behind a warning about “abusive behavior.”

In a statement, Greitens’ campaign manager said, ​​”Those who have an issue with the video and the metaphor are either lying or dumb. We believe Big Tech and its oligarchs are both.”

Greitens told a local morning show that he relished the “faux outrage” and noted how much interest the clip drove to his fundraising website.

‘So much baggage’

For all the headlines Greitens makes, some Missouri Republicans say he is not the best choice: Polls compiled by FiveThirtyEight show him leading by slimmer margins than his primary opponents in hypothetical matchups with leading Democrats, a discrepancy other conservatives attribute to the scandals that pushed him from office and the allegations of domestic abuse leveled by his ex-wife earlier this year.

In 2018, Greitens, who was elected governor two years prior, resigned while facing a charge connected to alleged campaign finance violations, which was later dropped in a deal with prosecutors. He had also admitted to an affair with a hairdresser, whom he was accused of blackmailing, which he denied. A felony invasion-of-privacy charge related to that case was also dropped.

Earlier this year, in a striking affidavit, his ex-wife said he had abused her and their young son during their marriage, claims which Greitens has rejected. The accusations by Sheena Greitens included a charge that her husband struck their son across the face during dinner and, in another altercation, hit the boy so hard that he was left with “a swollen face, bleeding gums, and [a] loose tooth.” (Court records in their ongoing custody dispute show the Greitens have been in mediation, with a trial set for July.)

“He’s not fit for office,” Jim Berberich, chair of the Republican central committee in Jefferson County, south of St. Louis, told ABC News. “Voters are not going to be happy to support a candidate for the U.S. Senate who has so much baggage that he amassed in such a short order.”

Cyndia Haggart, the GOP chair in Vernon County, in western Missouri, called Greitens “a non-starter.”

“He is damaged goods, and there are just those people who are not electable,” she said. “We will hand that seat to a Democrat.”

After the abuse allegations were disclosed in March, Artman, the member of the state Republican executive committee, wrote a letter asking Nick Myers, chair of the Missouri state GOP, to remove Greitens from the ballot. But she told ABC News the party did not take those steps.

Asked if she would vote for Greitens if he won the nomination, Artman told ABC News, “Hell no.”

Myers did not respond to multiple requests for comment about Greitens’ candidacy.

Still popular

Despite their misgivings, most Republicans who spoke to ABC News consider Greitens a serious contender to win the nomination over opponents like Rep. Vicky Hartzler and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt.

“A lot of people don’t believe what happened,” said David Lightner, chair of the Republican Committee in Jackson County, which includes Kansas City. Lightner was referring to the domestic abuse allegations while explaining Greitens’ buoyancy with voters. Lightner also cited his high profile and connections to Trump.

“Yes, he lost a lot of Republicans. But the thing is, he’s got a 500,000 email list that he goes by, and he also has Kimberly Guilfoyle and [Donald Trump Jr.] and a few others who are supporting him,” Lightner added, referring to the former president’s oldest son and his son’s fiancée.

Greitens’ base of support, said Lightner, “is solid.”

Jean Evans, a former chair of the Missouri Republican Party who is now a political consultant, attributes Greitens’ popularity to a passionate slice of the base.

“There’s a real fervor among a certain segment of the Republican Party now to get rid of RINOs,” she told ABC News.

Meanwhile, some GOP leaders think polls might be undervaluing Greitens’ popularity.

“There’s a lot of diehard Republicans who just aren’t going to get out there in front and say they’re voting for him. When they go in and vote at the polls, it may be different,” said Violet Corbett, a member of the Johnson County Republican Central Committee.

Multiple local Republicans said that a PAC supporting Greitens has invested in attack ads against his primary opponents but, to their knowledge, Republican groups inside and outside Missouri have not coordinated financial attacks on him.

A spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee did not respond to a request for comment about the group’s involvement in the primary.

Greitens’ campaign dismissed any notion that he would be less competitive in a general election than other Republicans and struck back at county leaders who said they would refuse to vote for him.

“That’s the definition of a RINO— willing to let a seat turn blue because they aren’t willing to fight for conservative values,” Johnson, the campaign manager, said.

Can a Democrat win in Missouri?

Missouri, where Barack Obama ran neck-and-neck with John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, veered rightward in subsequent cycles, with Trump winning the state by double digits in 2016 and 2020 and outpacing President Joe Biden with Missouri voters in a hypothetical 2024 matchup, according to polls compiled by FiveThirtyEight.

But in Greitens, some see a chance for Democrats to take advantage of a weakened candidate and steal back a Senate seat in a red state, as Democrat Claire McCaskill did in Missouri in 2012 when she won out by 15 points over Todd Akins, a Republican who drew widespread backlash for a comment about “legitimate rape.”

In an interview, Lucas Kunce, a leading Democratic candidate for Senate, declined to say whether he would prefer to face Greitens in a general matchup over another Republican.

“We’re just running our race. He stands for everything that we don’t stand for,” Kunce told ABC News.

“I think the guy should be in a jail cell at this point. I don’t think he should be on the ballot at all. If it happens, we’re going to crush it. But I think it’s sad,” he added.

But Michael Butler, chair of the Missouri Democratic Party, said that facing anyone but Greitens would be more difficult.

“I think we’d have less of a chance,” he told ABC News,” but we’d definitely still have a chance.”

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