Ryan Silvey won two terms as a Republican state senator in what he calls a "true moderate swing district" north of downtown Kansas City.
Now he's worried that Gov. Eric Greitens' affair and abuse scandal will turn the seat over to a Democrat.
Silvey represented the 17th District, covering part of Clay County, for five years before Greitens put him on the state's Public Service Commission earlier this year. Voters will decide in June whether Silvey will be replaced by Rep. Kevin Corlew, a Republican, or Rep. Lauren Arthur, a Democrat.
"This district was going to be tough for the Republicans to retain anyway," Silvey said. "What the governor did in his basement is not helping the situation, nor are his continued cries of, 'Poor me, this is a witch hunt.' He has no one to blame but himself, and if we lose this seat, I think it’s going to be on his head more than anyone else.”
The Corlew-Arthur election could be an early test of Republican fears that Greitens' political toxicity will exact a price on GOP candidates in legislative races. A report by a House committee investigating Greitens that was released Wednesday detailed accusations of sexual coercion and blackmail by a woman with whom he had an affair, allegations that have even many Republicans considering impeachment.
GOP leaders in the legislature want to call a special session to decide what to do with the governor.
Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, has been one of Greitens' fiercest critics and is one of many members of the governor's own party calling on him to resign.
“I’m very worried," Schaaf said. "I have to tell you, every day that the governor stays in office, he’s taking down the Republican Party some with him."
Silvey said the longer Greitens remains in office, the tougher it will be to retain the seat. Corlew and Arthur are in a dead heat in a district that draws a pro-labor base from the Ford assembly plant in Claycomo.
He said his old constituents don't believe, as Greitens does, that the allegations are a "political witch hunt."
“Nobody buys that," Silvey said. "Nobody buys that in the suburbs of Kansas City.”
Both Corlew and Arthur said they think Greitens should resign or face impeachment.
Corlew said his opinion that Greitens should resign is based on what he believes is right and wrong, not political motivation.
Arthur said the report confirmed her belief that Greitens "does not have the leadership or the moral authority to hold our state's most important office."
Risk to Republicans
John Hancock, a political consultant and former chair of the Missouri Republican Party, said a "lightning rod figure" like Greitens forces elected officials, grassroots organizers and voters to pick a side.
"Are they going to stand with the governor and argue he shouldn’t be impeached? That it’s unfair or a witch hunt? Or, are they going to be repulsed by the report and conclude he’s not able to be governor," Hancock said. "There will be good Republicans on both sides of that question."
That puts candidates on the spot.
"Does that divisiveness within the party manifest itself in people being disgusted and just not showing up to vote?" Hancock said. "Regardless of what one may think of Eric Greitens, it is inarguable it will have a negative effect on Republican campaigns."
So far, Republican legislators have widely condemned Greitens' alleged conduct, and a growing number of legislators, like Schaaf, are eager for him to resign or be impeached. Others want to wait for the proposed special session backed by Republican leaders.
Peverill Squire, a political scientist at the University of Missouri, said Republicans who want the governor out are “making a political calculation that Greitens is an anchor on their prospects right now.”
“I don't think anybody in their right mind would defend that type of behavior," Corlew said. "That’s not the kind of moral standards I have in my life. It’s not the kind the people of Missouri have, and it’s certainly not the kind that people in the governor’s office should have."
According to a poll taken earlier this month in the 17th District by BK Strategies on behalf of political newsletter MoScout, only 37 percent of respondents approve of Greitens' job performance, compared to 51 percent who do not. President Donald Trump has better approval ratings in the same poll.
The poll was taken before the committee investigating Greitens released its report, which includes the woman's account that Greitens taped her hands to exercise equipment, blindfolded her, removed her clothes and took a photo to keep her silent about the affair they had shortly before he ran for governor.
The committee, made up of five Republicans and two Democrats, found her testimony credible and is continuing to investigate the governor.
If Greitens remains in office
To some, the situation only gets worse if Greitens remains in office.
Pleasant Valley Mayor David Slater, a Democrat, said Greitens' affair pulls focus from the work of the Legislature. For candidates, that means it's more difficult to talk about their accomplishments to win over voters, temporarily putting policy agendas at risk.
"The man doesn't have a friend down there," Slater said.
Slater said, however, that the Greitens affair would be just one of many factors voters look at when picking a candidate and might not have a huge effect on their decisions. He has supported neither Corlew nor Arthur over the other and favored Rep. Mark Ellebracht, a Liberty Democrat for the open Senate seat.
Corlew said he thought Greitens could put Republican seats at risk if he sticks around because the state won't have "effective leadership at the top." That creates a lack of confidence, he said.
“But ultimately, it’s up to the candidates in each of the races to get their message out," Corlew said.
Robynn Kuhlmann, professor of political science at the University of Central Missouri, said she thought Democrats might be able to make only limited gains on Greitens' low approval ratings.
"I know that the midterm is supposed to create a so-called 'blue tide' or surge and we saw that in some special elections, but breaking a veto-proof legislature may still be quite the feat for Democrats," Kuhlmann said. "Due to Republican leadership rising to meet a political mess that is slamming the governor, I think that the party will not be blamed for the actions of someone who has clearly drawn a line in marketing himself as a political outsider."
The race in Clay County
Clay County favored Greitens in 2016, but voted for Democrat Jason Kander over incumbent U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican, who won.
"Since Representative Corlew has distanced himself from the governor, calling for a his resignation, it may take issue off the table," Kuhlmann said.
Brittany White, 27, a mother of two boys in Liberty, said she was shocked to hear the allegations against Greitens and thought he should be removed from office if they're proven true.
But that doesn’t' mean she wouldn’t vote for a Republican legislator, she said.
"I wouldn't put his choices onto anybody else," White said.
Jacob Gutierrez, 24, of Kansas City, North, said people talk about Greitens all the time where he works at Chappell's restaurant in North Kansas City. Gutierrez said he votes Democratic and encourages others to vote. He expects to see a "blue wave."
"I think a lot of them are also realizing that maybe we need to get more involved on a political level and stress what we want to see in a candidate," Gutierrez said.
To Leo Gatewood, 71, of Kansas City, North, it doesn't matter at all. He called the controversy a "railroad job" and accused Democrats of making a big deal of the allegations, though leading Republicans, including Attorney General Josh Hawley, want Greitens out.
If Greitens had had the affair while in office, it might be a bigger deal, Gatewood said.
Kelsey Fouts, 33, of Kearney, owns a hair salon in Liberty and typically votes Republican. She said the Greitens allegations wouldn’t change the way she votes. She said she wasn't troubled by the allegations.
"My opinion is it's his personal life," Fouts said. "It really doesn't matter to me just like if the president cheats on his wife. I don't really care."