JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — As Congressman Billy Long barnstorms across Missouri, his demeanor is confident.
Long — an adept auctioneer and real estate broker — is sure he’s the guy who can win both the primary and general elections for U.S. Senate. And he says he can even do it without former President Donald Trump’s endorsement.
As Long tells it, he met with the former president one-on-one last week in Trump Tower in New York City for nearly an hour — just before he made his Senate candidacy official with an appearance on Fox News. Trump asked Long if he was “in” even without his backing, and Long said: “Mr. President, I’m going to win this with or without your endorsement.”
Long, 66, has represented Missouri’s 7th congressional district since 2011. Nestled in the southwest corner of Missouri, it includes Springfield and Branson and is the seat formerly held by outgoing Senator Roy Blunt, the man who has kicked up a GOP frenzy to replace him in the Senate.
With his infamous giant white cowboy hat atop his head and tennis shoes replacing his usual boots, Long is working on bolstering his statewide name ID this week — and he certainly isn’t going about it inconspicuously. Long and the team are traveling in a giant black and blue bus with his name and face on the side. It’s the “Billy Bus,” an homage to the “Trump Train.” He said he plans to hit county courthouses, ice cream socials, coffee shops, and hamburger joints and “just sit down and hear what’s on people’s minds.”
Long spoke to The Missouri Times during a stop at Central Dairy in Jefferson City Tuesday as state officials celebrated Missouri’s bicentennial. He started the day at PFI Western Store in Springfield, where he announced his first congressional bid a decade ago, and made stops at Branson, Jefferson City, and Hannibal.
At Central Dairy — Long told us he’d be getting chocolate ice cream — the congressman schmoozed with elected officials and Missourians, not letting the sweltering mid-90s heat hinder him from cracking jokes and making introductions with a St. Louis-area tour bus full of people in town for the bicentennial.
Like the other four declared Republican candidates for Senate, Long likened himself to the former president as he campaigns. He pointed out that he was one of the first lawmakers out of the gate to back Trump after he descended the golden escalator and said he was running for president. Long said he also received backlash when he first decided to run for Congress and faced critics who didn’t believe he was in it for the right reasons.
Missouri ultimately went for Trump in 2016 — but it was a close race between him and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Out of the 11 counties in the 7th congressional district, only three backed Trump over Cruz. (In McDonald County, Trump beat Cruz by six votes.)
Long won his 2010 primary election by beating state Sen. Jack Goodman by less than 8,000 votes. Since, he’s solidly defeated any challengers in primary or general elections.
“I was supposed to be the joke who didn’t have a chance, who was only doing it for publicity — a lot of the same things they said about Trump — and I came through an eight-way primary” in his first election, Long said.
He may not have Trump’s endorsement (at least not yet), but he does have some members of the former president’s team on his side. Long is working with Jamestown Associates, which did media for Trump, and Kellyanne Conway, the White House counselor who also served as Trump’s 2016 campaign manager. Conway is appearing with Long on several stops this week, including in Joplin Thursday.
Conway called Long a “grassroots master” whose early support of Trump proved he is “loyal” and has “great instincts for people.”
“You know what I tell donors all across the state? You put Billy Long in the U.S. Senate, you never have to worry about him again,” Conway told The Missouri Times in a phone interview. “What you see is what you get. He’s been in Washington for 10 years, but he’s never been of Washington.”
Early in Trump’s tenure, the president sought to gut ObamaCare. But while Long agreed with the overall plan to repeal the health care law, he wasn’t on board with a proposal that failed to keep in place protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions, something he had campaigned on. So Trump invited Long and another congressional holdout to the White House where Long successfully made his case.
“Trump sent Billy out to face the press after. Billy really pushed for that, and it says an awful lot about how he really listens to constituents,” Conway recounted.
Long admitted he isn’t “going to be able to compete in the money race,” saying he has never really held a fundraising prowess. But he quipped he hopes to “raise friends not funds” as he travels the state. He also said he’d be able to save “$45-50 million in the general election” to keep the seat in Republican hands as the candidate.
“We shouldn’t have to spend that kind of money to keep a red seat red in a red state like Missouri,” Long said. “I’m the guy.”
“What sets me apart from my opponents is I’m a people person,” he added. “I’m running this 3-feet at a time. I’m going to hit 114 counties plus the city of St. Louis.”
In Congress, Long is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and serves on three subcommittees: Communications and Technology, Health, and Oversight and Investigations. He lists reducing diesel emissions, enhancing rural broadband, preventing harassing robocalls, and funding suicide prevention as his priorities.
Born in Springfield, Long said he went into the real estate business, and in 1979, found himself struggling to sell houses as interest rates climbed and “the economy was in shambles.” So Long drove to Kansas City and attended an auction school where he could learn how to auction off houses. He compared that time — when gas prices were high and inflation “out of control” — to today.
“Now, it’s 1979 all over again, and so I want to fight back,” he said.
But perhaps if there’s any story Long has told on the campaign trail thus far that shows his dedication to Missourians, it’s his recounting of wearing a Springfield Cardinals jersey with the No. 20 on the back to Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., when the Nationals were in the World Series in 2019. Long said he endured jeers and jabs but proudly wore the shirt.
Aside from Long, Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, Attorney General Eric Schmitt, former Gov. Eric Greitens and attorney Mark McCloskey are vying for the GOP nod for Senate.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is the editor of The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in early 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City.
Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S., including the 2016 presidential election, and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa and the Middle East.
She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. She is also an alumna of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C.
Contact Kaitlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.