When President Donald Trump landed Wednesday in St. Louis for his third visit to Missouri in less than a year, the man who welcomed the president to the state twice before was noticeably absent.
Trump instead was welcomed by Attorney General Josh Hawley, the state’s top law enforcement official and the Republican front-runner to challenge U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill in the fall.
“The state of Missouri was very good to me, I'll tell you,” Trump said during a visit to Boeing. “And Josh, I think, is doing a fantastic job. I can tell you that. Just met him at the plane.”
Never miss a local story.
Trump capped off his visit to Missouri with a speech at a closed-door fundraiser on behalf of Hawley’s Senate campaign, a signal of how seriously the White House is taking a race that could decide control of the U.S. Senate.
"You have to defeat Claire McCaskill. Last time, she got very lucky. She got very lucky. She was going to lose. That was a done deal," Trump said in a reference to McCaskill's double digit victory over former U.S. Rep. Todd Akin in 2012.
Greitens did not attend the fundraiser, according to Hawley’s campaign.
The indicted governor did not join Trump during his visit to Boeing and was not listed on the president’s itinerary for the visit. The White House would not answer whether Trump would hold any private meetings with Greitens during his time in Missouri.
Greitens’ office has been silent about the matter despite multiple calls and emails.
The president’s apparent avoidance of the Republican governor demonstrates Greitens’ reduced stature in the party after allegations surfaced that he had photographed a woman without her consent to keep her from speaking about an extramarital affair.
The Missouri Democratic Party mocked Greitens' absence from Trump's schedule.
"Governor Greitens is so radioactive that even President Trump won't be seen with him," Brooke Goren, the state party's spokeswoman, said in an email.
Robynn Kuhlmann, a political scientist at the University of Central Missouri, said the governor's absence from Trump’s itinerary was odd, but she hesitated to say that Greitens’ scandals were necessarily the reason that Trump and the governor would not cross paths.
“If you look at the pattern of Trump’s visit to the state of Missouri, the normal course of events would be for him to meet with Gov. Greitens,” Kuhlmann said. “The president is not necessarily known to shy away from individuals involved with scandals... If there’s any pattern whatsoever, the pattern is inconsistency.”
The White House promoted a column by Lt. Gov. Mike Parson in praise of Trump's tax cuts Wednesday, while remaining silent on Greitens.
Missouri Democrats have sought to link Hawley to Greitens.
Goren criticized Hawley for "refusing to return the $50,000 Greitens gave him and conducting a sham investigation into the Governor's use of Confide."
The attorney general's investigation into the governor's use of Confide, a secret messaging app, concluded without any findings of wrongdoing. Hawley has said his office was limited because it lacks subpoena power in Sunshine Law investigations.
Hawley has taken steps to distance himself from the scandal-plagued governor in recent weeks.
“I can’t speak for the governor,” Hawley said Tuesday when a reporter asked if he wanted the governor’s support in the campaign.
Hawley noted his office’s investigation into the governor’s charity, The Mission Continues, which was announced after reports that a Greitens staffer emailed the charity’s donor list to Greitens’ campaign in 2015.
“We have an active investigation into the governor and into his 501 (c) (3), and as the state’s chief law enforcement officer I think I better do my job,” he said.
Hawley’s hesitance to embrace Greitens contrasts with his full-throated embrace of Trump, who also faces a string of controversies, including federal indictments of his former campaign manager and several other former aides.
Hawley touted Trump’s support in a fundraising email Wednesday morning.
“President Trump knows better than anyone that Washington needs change, and that D.C. insiders are not the answer.
That is why I am proud to have him come to Missouri to help our efforts,” the email said.
Trump’s visit to Boeing coincided with a sharp drop in the company’s stock price this week amid fears that the president’s steel and aluminum tariffs could spark a trade war China, a subject that did not come up during the president’s economic forum on last year’s tax cuts.