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Congressman Billy Long Is The Latest Republican Entrant In Unpredictable Missouri Senate Race

U.S. Congressman Billy Long, R-Springfield, speaks with attendees on June 11, 2021, at Lincoln Days in Kansas City.
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
U.S. Rep. Billy Long, R-Springfield, speaks with attendees at Lincoln Days in Kansas City on June 11.

U.S. Rep. Billy Long says he’s been underestimated before — even by his own campaign staff.

Long told a Columbia radio station earlier this year that some of his advisers in 2010 urged him not to shoot an ad in which he was featured speaking directly into the camera because they feared he would scare off people. Ultimately, Long proved his doubters wrong when he won a crowded Republican primary by a comfortable margin.

“I was supposed to come in last place,” Long told the hosts of "Wake Up Columbia" in April. “And I was a joke. People were like, ‘Oh he’s not serious, he’s just doing it for publicity.’ And I ran away with the race.”

Long will try to make lightning strike twice next August. He made his U.S. Senate bid official on Tuesday during an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s FOX News program. Long has represented Missouri’s 7th Congressional District since 2011. That area, which includes Springfield, Joplin and Branson, has one of the largest blocs of Republican voters in the state.

He’s hoping to succeed U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a southwest Missouri native who is not running for reelection.

“It’s probably the worst-kept secret in Missouri politics, but I’m entering the race for the United States Senate,” Long told Carlson. “I followed Roy Blunt into the House. I have his congressional seat. And I want to follow him into the Senate so I can fight back against all this craziness that’s going on — just ludicrous what they’re doing to our country.”

Long, who has been an auctioneer and worked in real estate, is hoping his folksy persona can help him stand out in an increasingly large Republican primary field that includes former Gov. Eric Greitens, Attorney General Eric Schmitt, U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler and attorney Mark McCloskey.

His website announced that Long plans to tour the state in a bus featuring a photograph of him wearing a cowboy hat. He named his vehicle the “Billy Bus.”

“I think you watch a lot of these roll-out videos, and they’re all the same. They all say the same thing that their advisers have told them,” Long told St. Louis Public Radio in June. “I just shoot from the hip and tell real-life stories.”

Long is close with former President Donald Trump. But he said in June that his decision to enter the race wouldn’t be contingent on the former president’s endorsement, which could make a big difference in Missouri since Trump is so popular among Republican voters.

“Some people reluctantly got on the Trump train late. And then they got off the Trump train and got back on,” Long said in June. “No one has been with him longer or stronger than I have.”

U.S. Congressman Jason Smith, R-Salem, talks to an attendee on June 12, 2021 at Lincoln Days in Kansas City.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
U.S. Congressman Jason Smith, R-Salem, talks to an attendee at Lincoln Days in Kansas City on June 12.

Long’s announcement comes a day after U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, announced that she would run for reelection in the 2nd Congressional District instead of running for the Senate. That leaves only one other major Republican possibility who has not decided on whether to enter the race: U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem.

Smith, who has the most money on hand of any announced or potential contender, was in Long’s district on Tuesday meeting with attendees of the Neosho Watermelon Feed. Smith could complicate Long’s chances of winning for two reasons: Smith represents southeast Missouri, which is rivaling southwest Missouri as a GOP stronghold. And, like Long, he’s close with Trump and could receive his endorsement.

Smith has said he has no timetable for announcing his plans.

Long has hired one of Trump's key advisers, Kellyanne Conway, to help with his campaign. Greitens and Smith also have brought on people from Trump’s orbit to help with their Senate endeavors.

“Congressman Billy Long is a fighter who unequivocally supports the America First agenda,” Conway said in a statement. “He was one of the longest and the strongest supporters of President Donald J. Trump. That’s because Billy saw then what the media still refuse to see: American Exceptionalism, not American Socialism, is our destiny.”

Like Hartzler, Long will have to bump up his name recognition in parts of the state that he doesn’t represent — such as St. Louis and Kansas City. While he raised about $200,000 last quarter before he announced his Senate intentions, that’s below the hauls that Schmitt, Hartzler, McCloskey and Greitens took in. That fundraising trajectory could change now that he’s officially in the race.

Long doesn’t buy into the idea that having many candidates in the race will help a candidate like Greitens, who some Republicans fear would be a weaker general election candidate because of the scandal that brought down his governorship.

“Anyone trying to prejudge that this candidate has an advantage now or that candidate has an advantage or too many people is going to help this person or that person, there’s been many a slip between the cup and the lip,” Long said in June.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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