We continue our tipsheet series by taking a closer look at Missouri’s 4th congressional district, currently represented by Republican Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler.
Congresswoman VICKY HARTZLER
If Vicky Hartzler decides to jump into the U.S. Senate race, it’s because she feels the Lord has led her to run for U.S. Senate, and now is the time. If she wanted, she could stay and continue to serve the 4th district for as long as she desired. You’ve never heard of him, but John Webb lost to her so many times that he decided to give up and lose a state House seat instead.
Hartzler has built a political career on her faith, which is not just talk. Back in 2018 when former Gov. Eric Greitens was first embarrassing the state, most members of Congress and statewide officials found ways to squirm around and speak out of both sides of their mouths. They talked vaguely about values while not wanting to say anything that might cause the Greitens social media bots to descend on them. Not Congresswoman Hartzler. A lot of politicians talk about faith and values to get votes and then stop pretending they’re righteous once no one is looking. Hartzler is an honest-to-goodness Christian. It’s real, and Missourians know it is.
She’s also a rural Missourian to her core and understands the needs of her district well. She was the chief architect of provisions signed into law during the Trump administration that helped expand private investment in rural broadband. Her rural roots run deep on the organizational side, too. She went from being relatively unknown to winning her race against an incumbent because she and her husband built a massive network of support through the Farm Bureau, and she still has those relationships.
If Hartzler ran, she’d be a force to contend with and would make faith-based voters have to work harder to justify their vote for someone like Eric Greitens.
Bottom Line: She seems like she is running, and if she does, she is unlikely to take many votes from Greitens.
X-Factor: Do Christian voters stick with the actual values they profess?
If Hartzler decided to get in the Senate race, the primary to replace her would take off pretty quickly. This race starts with the two Calebs — Jones and Rowden. Other candidates may get in the race, but expect these two to draw the most attention in a primary fight.
Senator CALEB ROWDEN
It seems incredibly likely that the Senate Majority Floor Leader would enter the race to represent the 4th district if Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler declared. Caleb Rowden ran a great re-election campaign for his state Senate seat against Judy Baker in 2020 and edged her out with a narrow 3-point win. He hit the pavement, knocked doors, and raised almost $1 million. He has a history of being the underdog. He defeated two former senators — one in the primary and one in the general — in his first House race. He was also the underdog in his state Senate campaign against former Rep. Stephen Webber. In short, Rowden is a winner.
He’s generally chosen to stay away from the culture wars over the last five years which has helped him in liberal centers like Columbia to win swing seats some Republicans couldn’t compete in. However, his history as a contemporary Christian singer and background in church work will give him plenty of credibility with folks who have been sending Hartzler to Congress for a decade.
No doubt that it would be a bit of a relief for the Floor Leader to leave the Senate where his job has become a nearly impossible balancing act. Being in a supermajority is fun until you start getting consistently filibustered by members of your own party.
Bottom Line: If Hartzler’s in, Rowden’s in. He can raise money and run a hell of a campaign.
X-Factor: He will draw the district. Where will he think he is the strongest?
Former State Representative CALEB JONES
Caleb Jones has the largest Rolodex in Missouri politics by like a factor of five. For you readers like Conner under 30, a Rolodex is like your phone book app cut up into little pieces of paper; for you readers like Scott, a phone book app is like a Rolodex, but on your cell phone. He has national connections from Rudy Guiliani to Marco Rubio and knows by name more Missourians than anyone else in this state, bar none. Also, he has the incredible balance of having the Greitens administration on his resume and being beloved by most of the people he has worked within Jefferson City. Whatever you may think of Greitens, he has some deep name ID among many Republican primary voters.
He has successfully led the Missouri Electric Co-ops for two years now, which is probably the most influential lobby in outstate Missourah, and spent a lot of time successfully navigating Missouri and Washington politics before then. With the co-ops behind him, Jones could easily appeal to the 4th district. Can you imagine a county fair that Caleb Jones wouldn’t dominate?
But having a successful career means taking a significant paycut in order to run. However, it’s possible the Co-ops would give him a leave of absence to run in order to have one of their own in Congress. Maybe it would convince them to finally move those Co-op annual meetings to the end of July instead of the beginning of August to let the politicians sponsor them.
But Jones knows better than most that seats in Congress don’t open up but a couple times in a career, and he would be an excellent congressman. For a state losing Senator Roy Blunt, Missouri needs someone like a Caleb Jones going to Washington to replace that care and interest in bringing home investment in the state.
Bottom Line: You have to assume he and Sen. Caleb Rowden work something out or this will be one of the most contentious primaries in state history.
X-Factor: This is Caleb Jones we are talking about. You probably won’t know what he is going to do until you get a text five minutes before he announces.
Sen. DENNY HOSKINS
Sen. Denny Hoskins is really sitting in a pretty great spot for this opportunity. He has really come into his own in his second term in the Senate. He has three years left in the upper chamber so he can raise a good deal of money for his run and has a solid voting record and lots of the right friends in the right places to cash in chips if he chose to run.
Where Hoskins is concerned, this is where this race gets interesting from a redistricting perspective.
Cass County is somewhere where Caleb Jones’ brother Clayton is well known but is kinda up for grabs without a favorite son candidate. The more of Hoskins’ Senate district that is drawn into the 4th — and if there is no Cass County candidate in the race — the more viable his prospects are.
Bottom Line: His brand as a CPA and his Warrensburg base make him a top contender — especially if two Boone County residents are in the race.
X-Factor: What if there is only one Boone Countian and a Cass Countian jumps in?
Sen. RICK BRATTIN
He has a great story: joined the Marines after 9/11, which is a great look. He has some connections through former Sen. Lembke that could put him in a good position. Cass County will be crucial to the race, and the more Central Missourians that get in, the better the odds for a Cass County candidate.
Bottom Line: Seeing as he is in the middle of his Senate term, you have to think he and Sen. Hoskins get together and decide on one candidate from the west.
X-Factor: What if his home in northern Cass County is drawn into the 5th in an effort to make Missouri a 7-1 Republican delegation?
State Rep. BILL HARDWICK
Bill Hardwick is a rising star for the Republican Party. He is a veteran and a former prosecutor. Very popular among his colleagues and has been impressing nearly everyone he meets early in his House career. Depending on how the 4th is drawn and how many people get in the race, he may have a few folks come calling.
Bottom Line: It may just be too early in the career of this potential star to push all his chips in on a congressional run.
X-Factor: Does Fort Leonard Wood get its wish and put Pulaski County in the 8th?
Others who haven’t been mentioned as much but would be serious contenders:
Missouri Farm Bureau President Garret Hawkins
The leader of rural Missouri is a talent and would be a top-shelf contender for any political office he chose. It seems like he is probably content to stay in the role he only recently came to, but this won’t be the last time he is mentioned as a top-tier contender for a political office. He is too young, too talented, and has too impressive of a resume not to be talked about.
State Rep. Kurtis Gregory
A successful farmer, solid businessman, played football at Mizzou, great Rolodex of potential donors; the only reason he isn’t a top contender is that Saline County is in the 5th district for now. However, he might be impressive enough to keep it there to keep him out of a race.
State Rep. Dan Houx
Dan Houx is one of the most impressive people currently serving in state government. He has signed both sides of a paycheck and would impress any group of businessmen he met. However, his clout is only growing in the House, and he is the heir apparent to Senator Hoskins’ Senate seat.
Former Boone County Clerk Taylor Burkes
Taylor Burkes was appointed Boone County Clerk and has made waves about running for Congress with claims that he can put together $100,000 quickly. He is the exact type of candidate that Senator Hoskins or Brattin need to run to divide up that central Missouri vote.