JEFFERSON CITY — Three candidates have emerged as front-runners in a crowded field vying for the Democratic nomination to replace the retiring Republican Roy Blunt in the narrowly held U.S. Senate.
Heading into the final week of the campaign, Trudy Busch Valentine, Lucas Kunce and Spencer Toder are making their last minute bids to turn a red seat blue.
The winner of the Aug. 2 primary will have a steep hill to climb. Along with President Joe Biden’s low polling numbers, Missouri is still Trump country, after handing the former president double-digit victories in 2016 and 2020.
But, if scandal-plagued former Republican Gov. Eric Greitens takes the GOP primary, Democratic chances could improve mightily. In addition, the anti-Greitens sentiment on the GOP side has resulted in the presence of an independent spoiler in John Wood, a Republican attorney who recently served on the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
People are also reading…
Trudy Busch Valentine
Valentine, a first-time candidate who is an heir to the Busch beer brewing fortune, has a net worth between $69.4 million and $219.4 million and is largely self-funding her late-starting entry.
In an interview with the Post-Dispatch editorial board Thursday, Valentine said she was inspired to enter the race by the past six years of vitriol in Washington largely instigated by former President Donald Trump.
“I think our country is hanging by a thread,” Valentine said.
“I’m going to come at this differently than people with their guns and their blowtorches,” she said, referring to the Republican candidates’ use of military props and fighting stances. “I’m not a politician. I never thought I’d run for political office.”
Valentine, 65, is the daughter of August “Gussie” Busch Jr., who died in 1989. Her mother, Gertrude Busch, was Busch’s third wife.
In 2019, the St. Louis University School of Nursing was named for Valentine after she contributed $4 million to the school. She graduated from the school in 1980.
Valentine, a nurse, said she wants to penalize the pharmaceutical industry for its part in the opioid crisis and wants to boost funding to make opioid treatment more accessible, especially in rural communities.
On her campaign visits to the state’s Democratic strongholds like St. Louis, Columbia, Springfield and Kansas City, she said the needs of voters all have a common theme in health care, child care, care for the elderly and people with disabilities, and education.
As a mother who lost a son to opioid addiction, she said the epidemic is “near and dear to my heart. It’s running like wildfire through Missouri.”
Valentine believes the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade, which gave women a right to an abortion, was “horrendous” and could determine the outcome of the race.
“We are taking women back 50 years,” Valentine said.
She also wants to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Valentine said she supports a ban on military-style assault weapons as a way to stop mass killings.
She also supports background checks, red flag laws and preventing people who have been reported as dangerous to law enforcement by mental health providers from purchasing guns.
“Americans shouldn’t have to worry about being shot at school, at the grocery store, in a house of worship, or anywhere else,” Valentine said.
She said she offers an alternative to some of the leading men in the race, who have used their military backgrounds and images of blow torches and guns to make the race about fighting, rather than compassion.
She said she rejected plans to participate in a televised debate against Kunce because it would turn into a fight, rather than a discussion of ideas.
“We have to build each other up. We have to be a strong Democratic Party if we want to win,” Valentine said.
Valentine has loaned her campaign $2 million to spend on the primary. She raised $360,562 from donors between April and June.
Kunce, 39, grew up in Jefferson City, graduated from Yale University and joined the Marine Corps following law school at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He spent 13 years in the military, deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. He now resides in Independence.
Kunce is running as a populist, focusing on economic issues facing Missouri residents.
“We need to have people who understand the problems every day Missourians go through,” Kunce said.
He said corporate interests are too heavily favored in Congress, resulting in companies pushing for profits over the public good.
“They strip our community for parts,” Kunce said during an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board.
He wants to ban stock trading and ownership by lawmakers who could be benefiting from inside information.
“Being a member of Congress should be about service,” Kunce said.
Kunce supports raising the age limit to purchase a gun from 18 to 21.
Kunce also wants to get rid of the filibuster in the Senate to ram legislation through the chamber making abortion legal in every state.
He also sees a path to reform drug prices, calling drug companies “cartels” that need to be broken up.
Kunce also supports legislation that aims to protect transgender children by banning conversion therapy.
As a major in the Marines, Kunce said he warned his colleagues that Russia was building up its military might using money from oil sales.
That could have been avoided if the U.S. had invested more in renewable energy sources, he said.
Kunce has been the top fundraiser among all candidates for the seat. He received $1.1 million in contributions between April and June, bringing the total amount he has raised to more than $4.4 million.
In St. Louis, Kunce has won the backing of Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, and St. Louis County Council member Shalonda Webb.
In a joint letter, the two Black officials said, “Lucas is the only candidate who’s been showing up in our communities. We both represent majority Black districts and no Democrat can win this election without the support of our community. Votes aren’t bought — they’re earned.”
Toder, a St. Louis native, also is a first-time candidate. The businessman has funneled more than $800,000 of his own money into his non-traditional campaign, which has focused on connecting voters with government services.
As an example, he has assisted people to gain access to child tax credit applications and health insurance. He also has collected supplies for Afghan refugees.
In the closing days, his schedule includes online meet and greets, a visit to Monett on Thursday and a final stop in Kansas City on Sunday.
Toder, 37, supports tougher gun laws. He said people should have permits to keep firearms. He backs waiting periods for purchases and background checks. He would address military-style assault weapons by instituting a gun buy-back program and then banning them.
Toder said he wants to encourage immigration and would vote to codify Roe v. Wade.
He wants to see Medicare for All passed, with contraception and in-vitro fertilization covered under it.
Toder also wants to abolish the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation.
Toder has loaned himself a total of $882,750 over the course of the campaign. Of that, $552,500 was loaned between April and June.
In all, 11 candidates are seeking the Democratic nomination. Others running are Lewis Rolen of St. Louis, Gena Ross of Platte City, Carla Coffee Wright of St. Louis, Josh Shipp of St. Louis, Jewel Kelly of Festus, Clarence Taylor of St. Louis, Pat Kelly of St. Louis and Ronald William Harris of Kansas City.
St. Louis startup owner and real estate broker joins list of Democrats running for U.S. Senate