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Missouri candidates and politicians prepare for post-Greitens world

Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley and Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill
Durrie Bouscaren & Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The morning after Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens announced he was resigning, Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Josh Hawley was in Springfield highlighting his endorsement from the political arm of Missouri Right to Life, the state’s top anti-abortion group.

The attorney general’s apparent aim was to reach out to social conservatives – and quickly change the subject from the political cloud that Greitens’ sex scandal has cast over Missouri Republicans for months.

That move fits in with the advice offered by former state Republican Party chairman John Hancock.

“There’s no question but that a lot of the grassroots were divided on how they felt about things,” Hancock said. “So I think Job One for candidates is to get the base to coalesce and unite.”

Missouri Democrats have a similar task. But a debate already is underway on how hard to continue to hammer away at Greitens’ missteps.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, for example, touched off a Twitter frenzy over her initial Tweet posted within minutes after Greitens’ news conference in Jefferson City:

Critics swiftly blasted the mayor for being tone-deaf about the gravity of Greitens’ alleged misdeeds. Among other things, he had been accused of invasion of privacy by taking a semi-nude photo of a woman with whom he was having an affair without her permission

The blow-back against Krewson was so heavy that she felt compelled to explain herself by sending out a series of more tweets.

It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intention. Yesterday, I posted a tweet intended to begin the healing needed from inexcusable, embarrassing, and disgusting actions of Governor Eric Greitens. It was well intended but missed the mark! (1/4) — Mayor Lyda Krewson (@LydaKrewson) May 30, 2018
I probably should have left civility at the door and said, thank goodness Governor Greitens got the message that violating the trust of his family, his supporters, his staff and the voters is inexcusable. I should have said, it’s about time and overdue. (2/4) — Mayor Lyda Krewson (@LydaKrewson) May 30, 2018
But I considered the victims—the woman whom he assaulted - is wife and children - his many supporters who believed in him - and the people of the State of Missouri, who rightly expected that their Governor would comport himself honorably. (3/4) — Mayor Lyda Krewson (@LydaKrewson) May 30, 2018
Let there be no doubt, I condemn Eric Greitens behavior. I do not celebrate his downfall, but I am hopeful that we can begin a new chapter with Governor Mike Parson. (4/4) — Mayor Lyda Krewson (@LydaKrewson) May 30, 2018

Such episodes, by Krewson and Hawley, exemplify some of the challenges for Missouri candidates and politicians as they shift into a post-Greitens political world.

At least that’s the opinion of Dave Robertson, head of the political science department at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

“Republicans face the danger of overlooking the permanent scars that Greitens left on their political party,’’ Robertson said.

“Democrats risk the assumption that Greitens left nothing but scars.”

Senate race back in spotlight

The chief target of national and state Republicans in Missouri is U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, the state’s top remaining Democrat. Hancock said her survival, or defeat, could well determine which party controls the U.S. Senate in 2019.

McCaskill has accused Hawley of being too soft in his office’s own investigations of Greitens. Hawley, in turn, has asserted that she’s talked of little else.

Although outside pro-McCaskill groups are still running ads against Hawley that try to link him to Greitens, the senator herself has sought to promote other topics – notably healthcare and veterans issues – in her recent appearances around the state.

The two are likely to resume their disagreements on certain social issues –notably access to abortion and contraception– in the coming weeks.

And top national figures in both parties are stopping by.

McCaskill recently enjoyed a supportive visit by fellow Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Hawley, meanwhile, recently got some campaign help from Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas.

And the attorney general may be about to get another boost from President Donald Trump, who headlined a fundraiser in Frontenac in March for Hawley. The New York Times reports that Missouri is among six states on Trump’s summer tour that backed him in 2016, but have Democrats in the U.S. Senate.

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.