ST. LOUIS – Just a year ago, former Navy SEAL and author Eric Greitens was a virtual unknown on the Missouri political scene.
Now he’s the Republican nominee for the state’s highest elected office.
Greitens defeated businessman John Brunner, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and former House Speaker Catherine Hanaway in a heated primary campaign in which he was the center of attacks from both the right and left for his massive (and sometimes mysterious) out-of-state donations, a lack of a conservative record, his visits to the Democratic National Convention and Obama White House, and the fact that one of his largest donors has been alleged of sexual abuse. Even some of his advertisements, some of which for being nothing but video of him shooting firearms with voice over, were widely mocked.
But despite the heat and pressure, Greitens managed to silence some of his biggest critics within the Republican Party by defeating what was generally regarded as a strong field from the rest of the GOP.
In his celebration speech, Greitens said he and his wife were grateful for the support they had received.
“Sheena and I are humbled by all of your support, the sacrifice, the energy you have put in and together we thank you,” he said. “As a family, we are committed to serving you every single day.”
Greitens will now face off against one of the most experienced high-level politicians in the state in Attorney General Chris Koster in the general election in November. Koster has served as AG for the last eight years, and before that he served as a state senator for four years. Koster famously switched to the Democratic Party in 2007 after what he cited as disagreements with the Republican Party over their opposition to stem-cell research and union issues.
After his own primary victory, mostly against fringe candidates, Koster made a coy reference to Greitens and what he called “the most disturbing political campaign in fifty years.”
“Candidates shooting machine guns and doing sit ups for the cameras. Candidates mocking the disabled and even questioning the grief of a Gold Star mother. It all seems beneath us,” Koster said. “It is beneath the greatness of our country and beneath the greatness of Missouri… If you find it disappointing, and you are looking for careful, thoughtful leadership, a place where people are listened to and respected, where problems get fixed and not just talked about, then I want to tell you there is new Democratic Party in Missouri reaching out its hand to you.”
In his speech, Greitens said that Koster should be “shaking in his loafers.”
“He’s been in office for over a quarter century and what does he have to show for it?” Greitens said. “On his watch, there’s been more violence in our communities. On his watch, our government has become more corrupt and less accountable. On his watch, our taxes go up and our schools suffer.
“We are coming to put an end to his political career.”
The Missouri Democratic Party reiterated many of their previous criticisms of Greitens in a statement released after he won.
“The only office Eric Greitens is qualified for is Hypocrite in Chief,” said MDP spokeswoman Kristin Sosanie. “Greitens’ so-called ‘outsider’ campaign has been funded by shady out-of-state interests and morally-questionable donors – he simply does not have the qualifications, temperament or conviction to be Governor of Missouri.
“Chris Koster is the right choice for Missourians in 2016, and we are proud to stand with him for Governor.”
The former Navy SEAL, who has made his lack of government experience a cornerstone of his campaign, said he was ready for the challenge. He greeted a raucous crowd of supporters that filled a conference room of the DoubleTree in Chesterfield.
Former state treasurer Sarah Steelman, one of Greitens’ earliest supporters that has held political office, perhaps summed up the mood of the room best.
“I haven’t been this excited since Ronald Reagan got elected,” she said.