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Lt. Gov. Kehoe Passes On U.S. Senate Contest To Run For Missouri Governor

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, in a photo taken at St. Louis Public Radio on June 28, 2018. Ashcroft announced he wouldn't run for the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, March 10, 2021.
File photo / Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe said he won't run for the U.S. Senate, but will instead turn his attention toward the 2024 gubernatorial contest.

Updated at 10:45 a.m. March 22 with Kehoe's announcement

The GOP scramble to succeed U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt got a little bit narrower on Monday.

Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe announced that he will not run for the U.S. Senate next year. The Republican was seen as a potential candidate after Blunt announced he would not run for a third term earlier this month.

Instead, Kehoe said in a statement that he’s turning his attention to the 2024 Missouri gubernatorial contest. Gov. Mike Parson is unable to run for that post again because of term limits.

“I will work to unify the party behind a strong nominee committed to representing Missouri's conservative, common sense views and values in the United States Senate,” Kehoe said. “While Claudia (his wife) and I have been honored by the encouragement and offers of support for me to serve as Missouri’s next U.S. Senator, my true calling remains to work on behalf of Missourians in Missouri as lieutenant governor and as a candidate for governor in 2024.”

Kehoe is the second major statewide official to decide against seeking the GOP nomination for Senate. Earlier this month, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft chose to not run — setting up a likely gubernatorial bid of his own in 2024.

Still, Kehoe’s announcement is unlikely to forestall a potentially crowded GOP Senate primary. The candidates include Attorney General Eric Schmitt, former Gov. Eric Greitens and retired businessman John Brunner. U.S. Reps. Jason Smith, Ann Wagner, Vicky Hartlzer and Billy Long are all seriously considering Senate bids as well.

Smith, Wagner, Hartzler and Long have become especially vocal in recent weeks about the race. Wagner, for instance, spoke to the Hill recently about how her congressional districtthat includes portions of St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson counties encompass a big chunk of the GOP primary electorate.

Smith and Long, who are both close with former President Donald Trump, have also been touting their viability as Senate contenders. Smith told Kansas City talk show host Pete Mundo that he’ll put his “support for working-class Missourians and my conservative credentials against anyone in the state.” And when asked by CNN who would be the strongest candidate in the Senate contest, Long replied: “Billy Long.”

On the Democratic side, former state Sen. Scott Sifton of Affton, Jefferson City native Lucas Kunce and tech executive Tim Shepard have announced their bids for the Senate. Other Democrats, like Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and state Sen. Brian Williams, D-University City, are considering running.

Our previous story

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, in a photo taken at St. Louis Public Radio on June 28, 2018
File | David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft announced Wednesday he will not run for the U.S. Senate, a decision that could affect the complexion of an uncertain GOP field to succeed Roy Blunt.

Ashcroft, who recently won another term as secretary of state, received more votes last year than anyone else on the Missouri ballot, including former President Donald Trump. His father, John Ashcroft, is a revered figure in Missouri Republican politics — and might have been able to help his son win votes in critical southwest Missouri.

But in a statement, Ashcroft said after “prayerful consideration” he’s decided to “remain devoted to the work Missouri voters have entrusted to me as secretary of state.”

“Our hearts are here in Missouri, and we cherish the opportunity to continue raising our family here,” he said. “Service to Missourians is a profound privilege which we intend to persist and honor in every respect. We hope those who pledged support to me will devote their efforts to electing the eventual Republican nominee.”

One of the other considerations for Ashcroft involves the Missouri governorship. Gov. Mike Parson will be barred from running for another term in 2024. Ashcroft would likely be a strong contender to succeed him, even if other GOP statewide officials vie for the post.

With Ashcroft’s departure, it now seems inevitable that there will be multiple candidates running to replace Blunt. Both Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe and Attorney General Eric Schmitt, as well as former Gov. Eric Greitens, have put out statements or told reporters they're interested in running.

It’s possible a sitting member of the Missouri GOP congressional delegation could decide to run as well. U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, told reporters in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday that he’s giving a serious look to the race — as are U.S. Reps. Billy Long, R-Springfield, and Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville. U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, who won a nationally watched contest last year in the 2nd Congressional District, is also mulling entering the race.

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, said he’s talking over with his family whether to run for the Senate. Of the potential candidates, Smith and Luetkemeyer both have more than $1 million cash on hand. That puts them at an advantage over state-level officials like Kehoe or Schmitt or Greitens, who would have to start from scratch under federal campaign financing rules.

But Kehoe and Schmitt can run for the Senate without giving up their current positions. All of the House members would have to vacate their seats to run.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.