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John Wood on why he can win as an independent Missouri U.S. Senate candidate

John Wood
John Wood's campaign
John Wood is running as an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate.

For John Wood, Tuesday’s results in Missouri’s closely watched U.S. Senate primaries don’t change much about his candidacy for the post as an independent.

Wood recently turned in signatures to appear on the ballot in the race to succeed Sen. Roy Blunt. The former U.S. attorney and counsel for the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection believes he can provide a different option for voters who generally hold conservative political views but don’t like how many Republicans embraced the idea that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.

“If the voters didn’t have an independent candidate, they would be forced to choose between on the Republican side someone who is very extreme and very divisive and an election denier,” Wood said on an episode of St. Louis Public Radio’s Politically Speaking podcast. “And on the Democratic side, somebody who would support Chuck Schumer for majority leader — as well as the Biden-Schumer-Pelosi policy agenda. And that’s really out of step with what most Missourians want.”

Wood launched his candidacy for the Senate earlier this year and is being backed by a political action committee spending millions of dollars. Former U.S. Sen. John Danforth endorsed Wood’s candidacy, and the Republican has appeared in television ads supporting his former aide’s bid.

Danforth said in a statement on Tuesday that "John Wood is the most qualified Senate candidate by a mile.”

But with Attorney General Eric Schmitt winning the nomination, many are questioning whether Wood will have much of an impact in a race that also includes Democrat Trudy Busch Valentine. That’s because most observers felt that Wood could only change the dynamics of the contest if former Gov. Eric Greitens became the GOP nominee, since Greitens’ scandals may have given voters second thoughts about him.

Wood said the top three finishers in the Republican primary — Schmitt, Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler and Greitens — were “really running the same campaigns.”

“They were all trying to be as far right as possible,” Wood said. “There’s not so much to read into it, other than they all thought that the best way to get the nomination was to be as extreme and divisive as possible — and to try and follow in Trump’s footsteps as much as possible. So no matter which of the three ended up winning, that would have still been the same message that would come out of it.”

Wood holds conservative political views

Wood emphasized that he holds fairly conservative political views. For one thing, he said the U.S. Supreme Court made the right decision in striking down Roe v. Wade, which effectively banned most legal abortions in Missouri.

He added, though, that he supports exceptions for people who are the victims of rape or incest or experiencing medical emergencies. But he stopped short of saying he supports a federal law for those exceptions everywhere, adding that he’d rather see the Missouri law amended.

Wood also said he would vote for Sen. Mitch McConnell to remain the Republican leader in the Senate. Greitens made his opposition to McConnell a focal point of his campaign, while Schmitt has said he “doesn’t endorse the Kentucky senator” for leadership.

McConnell played a role in Missouri’s primary,as his political organization donated millions of dollars to a political action committee that’s credited with beginning Greitens’ descent.

“I think perhaps if Greitens had become the nominee, fundraising might have been a little bit easier,” Wood said. “Because there’s a lot of people who would have said, ‘Eric Greitens, given his personal baggage, can’t serve in the U.S. Senate.’ But the message that we’re hearing from Eric Schmitt is really the same, whether it’s Eric Schmitt or Eric Greitens.”

He also said he would have been against the American Rescue Plan Act and the scuttled Build Back Better spending plan. And he likely would have voted against an infrastructure bill that the retiring Blunt supported.

“Ideologically, I just don’t align with the Democrats,” Wood said. “I believe in limited government. I believe in keeping taxes low. I believe in fiscal responsibility. I believe in strong law enforcement, a strong national defense, and judges who are going to interpret the law and not make the law. So I just wouldn’t fit in the Democratic Party, because I just don’t believe in the same things they do.”

Can an independent candidate stand out?

Missourians have typically not embraced statewide candidates who are not part of the Republican or Democratic Party.

In 2018, independent Craig O’Dear made almost no impact in the Missouri Senate race between Republican Josh Hawley and Democrat Claire McCaskill. In fact, the only non-major party candidate who got above 6% of the vote was Libertarian Jonathan Dine, who reached that threshold in 2012 when McCaskill easily defeated Republican Todd Akin.

Wood said, “This race is different from all the other races, including Craig O’Dear.” In particular, he wants to compare his service on the Jan. 6 committee to unsuccessful litigation Schmitt was part of that sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

“And I have the support of Sen. Danforth. And that includes not just the tremendous reputational support that he brings to table, but also significant financial resources,” Wood said.

Independent candidates in other states, such as Greg Orman in Kansas, started their respective campaigns much sooner than Wood did. But Wood said he has no regrets about not jumping into the contest sooner, adding that Missourians will likely be paying more attention now that the primary election is over.

“One, the work I was doing on the January 6th committee was extremely important, and so I thought it was important that I continue to do that up until I did,” Wood said. “I don’t think that there would have been a lot of attention to the general election until after the primaries, no matter how early I started.”

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Steve Vockrodt on Twitter: @stevevockrodt 

Follow John Wood on Twitter: @JohnWoodMO

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Steve Vockrodt is the investigative editor for the Midwest Newsroom.