Local Columnists

Greitens fights to keep pace with Koster in Missouri governor race

Eric Greitens.
Eric Greitens. AP

Mr. and Mrs. Typical Missouri Voter have smartly tuned out all things politics in the wake of the Aug. 2 primary.

But let’s be clear: A lot of behind-the-scenes stuff is happening in the battle royale between gubernatorial candidates Chris Koster, the Democrat, and Republican Eric Greitens.

It’s all consequential. And much of it begins to speak to why Republicans have struggled to win the state’s highest office for so many years.

Or does it?

The Greitens crowd is betting that 2016 is different, and the usual way of doing things doesn’t matter as much. In this year of the outsider, it could be that all the conventional rules are out, just as they’ve been nationally since a guy named Trump came along.

In case you’re keeping track at home, Republicans have been in the wilderness for all but four of the past 24 years when it comes to calling one of their own “Missouri Governor.”

What’s particularly remarkable, of course, is that the GOP has dominated the General Assembly for most of those years. The party controls six of the eight congressional seats, and Missouri is widely regarded as red turf when it comes to presidential politics.

Some of that Democratic dominance of the governor’s office is due to non-partisan factors, such as Republican Bill Webster crumbling under the weight of a federal investigation in 1992 or the death of Mel Carnahan in 2000 that may have tilted that year’s race for governor away from Republican Jim Talent.

In more recent years, Missouri Republicans have embroiled themselves in contentious primaries that have undermined their prospects in November. This year was no different.

Since then, Koster has sprinted while Greitens has struggled to untangle himself from the intensity of that critical first leg.

Koster just scooped up the endorsements of a plethora of groups that almost always go with the Republican: the Missouri Farm Bureau, Missouri Soybean Association and Missouri Corn Growers.

He’s chomping into the traditional GOP base and eager to end the race now.

Meantime, some Republicans are struggling to coalesce behind Greitens. A GOP unity breakfast imploded without any unity. Republican members of Missouri’s congressional delegation are grousing that they haven’t talked to Greitens since the primary.

Republican lawmakers are grousing that they have little interest in backing a candidate who’s roundly criticized them in his TV ads as corrupt. Conservatives, including the anti-abortion crowd, aren’t happy either.

Ryan Johnson, president of the Missouri Alliance for Freedom, pointed out on Sunday’s broadcast of “This Week in Missouri Politics” that 65 percent of Republicans voted against Greitens in the primary. Johnson added:

“He has a lot of work to do in order to try to unify this party. If he wants to reach out to conservatives, I think he needs to start doing it now. So far, I’ve seen very little since election night.”

So conventional political thinking would suggest that Greitens is slip sliding away.

But this is no conventional year. A new poll out this week showed the race close. Missouri leans Republican. And Greitens is Trump-like in that he’s a political newcomer, an outsider in an outsider’s year.

Still, he better get moving. The smart money is moving toward Koster.

Steve Kraske: 816-234-4312, @stevekraske