All four Republicans seeking their party’s nod for governor said during a debate Monday night that they would support Donald Trump for president, although only two committed to stumping with him if he campaigns in the state.
The GOP race features four self-described conservatives who blame racial tensions in Ferguson and at the University of Missouri on Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster, who is the Democratic front-runner for his party’s gubernatorial nomination.
Retired businessman John Brunner, former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens, former U.S. attorney and Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder traded very few jabs with one another in a mostly tame hourlong forum.
Greitens and Brunner played up their credentials as political outsiders, while Hanaway and Kinder portrayed themselves as office-holders who were able to get things accomplished despite what they called a corrupt political climate in Jefferson City.
“The choice is clear: If you’re happy with government, vote for one of my opponents and be sure nothing will change,” Greitens said. “If they were going to make a difference, they would have done so already.”
Brunner held to a theme that as a businessman he has created thousands of jobs and said he knows first-hand how the state’s regulatory environment is crushing jobs. He said he supports right-to-work legislation and will be able to bring business back to the state.
Hanaway said she would put her full support behind law enforcement, something that she said Nixon, Koster and the Obama administration failed to do when tensions flared in Ferguson after a police officer shot an unarmed 18-year-old in August 2014.
Hanaway said she was shocked when she discovered that only half of the murders in St. Louis get solved, and she bristled when Greitens called that a community issue and said he wouldn’t blame law enforcement.
“You’ve never worked in law enforcement, you’ve never been there,” Hanaway said to Greitens. “You’re trying to interrupt me, but I’m not going to let you. Don’t mischaracterize what I’m saying tonight.”
Kinder also singled out Greitens, saying he mischaracterized the lieutenant governor’s positions and had aired millions of dollars in attack ads questioning Kinder’s character.
“Unfortunately people do desperate things,” Kinder said. “Missourians are fed up with politics of personal destruction.”
Kinder said he would have gone to the Missouri campus in November in response to racial tensions and demanded leadership from the president, chancellor, curators and football coach Gary Pinkel.
As for Pinkel’s players who threatened to boycott team activities and games unless system President Tim Wolfe was removed from office, Kinder said he would have called the players’ bluff.
“I hear people across the state say they have had a belly-full of the PC foolishness that has taken place on that campus and strangled our flagship university,” he said.
When asked by moderators whether they would support Trump for president, all four said they disagree with some of the things Trump has said, but he’s still a better choice than presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
“One thing that is absolutely true: Hillary Clinton is not an option,” Brunner said. “Her appointees to the Supreme Court are not an option.”
As for whether they would campaign alongside Trump in Missouri, Hanaway and Kinder said they would, while Brunner and Greitens said they would “cross that bridge when they get to it.”
The debate was hosted by St. Louis television station KTVI and co-sponsored by WDAF-TV in Kansas City and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It was aired live in St. Louis and Kansas City.