U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler has set the date and place to announce her bid for the U.S. Senate, opening the way for a half-dozen or more Republicans to battle for her safe GOP seat in Congress.
The list of potential candidates in the sprawling 24-county 4th District includes three state Senators, a member of the Missouri House, a commissioner from Cass County, a state division director and the state director for U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley.
In an email sent Thursday morning to supporters, Hartzler invited them to an event next week in Lee’s Summit where she will formalize her candidacy. She will be at Frontier Justice, a firearms store and rifle range that made headlines for a suicide outside its doors in 2017 and when a Muslim woman was told she must remove her hijab in order to use the range.
While the email doesn’t specifically state Hartzler is running in the primary to replace U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, the announcement’s timing just before Republican statewide Lincoln Days, its location outside her district and the tone point to her candidacy.
Hartzler will join disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens, Attorney General Eric Schmitt and St. Louis attorney Mark McCloskey in the Republican primary race that has at least four other candidates weighing their chances.
In five re-election campaigns since winning the seat in 2010, Hartzler has averaged 65.7 percent of the vote and won every county in every election except the most populous, Boone County in central Missouri.
That record means that the GOP primary in August 2022 will almost certainly choose Hartzler’s replacement.
The candidates who have acknowledged their interest, or been named by GOP insiders as taking steps to run, are:
- Taylor Burks, appointed Boone County Clerk in 2017 and named director of the state’s Division of Labor Standards in December 2018 after losing the office narrowly to a Democrat. Burks is an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and was stationed in Kuwait supporting military logistics during the Iraq War. Burks said in a recent interview that he is a “likely candidate.”
- Missouri Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, elected to the state Senate in November. Brattin was a House member from 2011 to 2019. He owned and operated a small construction company for 14 years, according to his Senate biography, and maintains a 40-acre farm in central Cass County, north of Harrisonville. Brattin said he’s “had several people encourage me” to run.
- Missouri Sen. Sandy Crawford, R-Buffalo, elected in a 2017 special election to the seat held by Gov. Mike Parson before his 2016 election as lieutenant governor. Crawford was elected to the Missouri House in 2010 after a 30-year banking career at O’Bannon Bank in Buffalo. Crawford said she is considering the race.
- Daniel Hartman, state director for U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley. Prior to Hawley’s election to the Senate, Hartman was his chief of staff in the Missouri Attorney General’s office. Hartman was an officer in the U.S. Army who served in Iraq. Hartman could not be reached for this report.
- Missouri Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, elected to the Senate in 2018. He was elected to the House in 2008 and was Speaker Pro Tem from 2013-2017. Hoskins is consulting manager with The Tidwell Group, a full-service accounting and consulting firm specializing in the real estate and construction industries, according to his Senate biography. He said he is “definitely interested” in running.
- Ryan Johnson, a Cass County Associate Commissioner who won a narrow primary victory over an incumbent in August 2020. Johnson is a registered lobbyist for several conservative organizations, including groups opposing disclosure of dark-money donors and supporting repeal of limits on campaign contributions. Johnson could not be reached for comment.
- Missouri Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, who was elected to the House in a 2017 special election and has been a member of the Republican State Committee since 2013. Walsh was a volunteer on Hartzler’s 2010 campaign and is married to Steve Walsh, Hartzler’s press secretary. They met during Hartzler’s first campaign. Walsh is “giving serious consideration” to the race, she wrote in a text message.
Two other potential candidates have taken themselves out or all but done so.
Former state Rep. Caleb Jones, who grew up in Moniteau County, now runs the association of state electric cooperatives and said he will not run. Senate Majority Caleb Rowden of Columbia said during the legislative session he was “going to make darn sure it’s right for my family.”
One consideration for every potential candidate in the 4th District is how the district lines may change before the 2022 election.
The U.S. Census report detailing local populations is due in September and new boundaries must be established before filing opens at the end of February. Missouri’s population, 6,154,193 would mean districts of about 770,000 each. The 1st District and the 8th District, in St. Louis and southeast Missouri, respectively, will have to add population.
All or most of Brattin and Crawford’s districts are in the current 4th District and while Hoskins’ home is in Johnson County, the third most populous county, and he represents Howard County as well.
Hoskins is a member of the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting, giving him more input on the boundaries.
There could be minor changes to account for varying growth rates among the regions of the state or there could be significant changes. One target could be the 5th District, represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, if Republicans try to get seven of the state’s seats instead of the current six.
Legislators entering the race have the advantage of established constituencies and the baggage of every vote they have made.
“I put my rural Missouri voting record against anyone who would get in this race,” Hoskins said. “I have not made any concrete, firm decisions, but I am definitely interested in this race and we will see what plays out in these next few months.”
Hoskins and Brattin can run without leaving their Senate seats because their terms end in 2024. Crawford must decide whether she will seek a second, and final, term in the Senate or go after a position that may not be open again for a decade or longer.
“I have been approached and asked about running, which is flattering,” Crawford said. “I am still kind of mulling it over.”
The district is home two two major military bases, Whiteman Air Force Base and Fort Leonard Wood. Burks, who returned from an overseas deployment in January, said he will urge lawmakers drawing the district to keep them together.
If he runs, Burks said, he will resign his position in state government.
“I wouldn’t put the governor or the administration in the position of deciding about it,” he said.
This story was republished with permission from the Missouri Independent, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering state government, politics and policy.