KANSAS CITY, Mo.—When it comes to presidential primary campaigns, a cliche attributed to Bill Clinton has endured for decades. “Democrats want to fall in love….Republicans fall in line.”

That most definitely isn’t the case when it comes to Missouri politics, especially in a Republican party that now finds itself holding every statewide office for the first time since the 1800s. 

When former Gov. Eric Greitens resigned in 2018, it set off a chain reaction of moves and appointments over the ensuing years, as did Josh Hawley and Eric Schmitt’s moves from the Attorney General’s office to the U.S. Senate. Throw in term limits and we’ve landed in a 2024 election cycle that finds two of the statewide office holders, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, in a contentious three-way primary for governor along with State Sen. Bill Eigel. There’s a wild scramble of candidates running to succeed Ashcroft and Kehoe, and new “incumbents” in State Treasuer Vivek Malek and Attorney General Andrew Bailey who haven’t run for elected office, and now face serious primary challenges.

Filing for the Aug. 6 primary starts Feb. 27 and ends March 26. The most recent independent polling shows roughly 50% are undecided in most of the contests.

This past weekend, candidates and grassroots party activists gathered at the Airport Hilton in Kansas City for the Missouri GOP’s annual “Lincoln Days” festivities. It was a chance to show off a campaign’s organization and support, mingle in party suites, prepare for next month’s presidential caucus and hear from Sen. Hawley, the one officeholder not facing a serious primary challenge in 2024, along with South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who addressed the gathering Saturday night.

Another event collided on the calendar this weekend in Kansas City. A large girl’s volleyball tournament was held in the region, bringing dozens of teams from around the country. Many of the families were staying at the Hilton. If you were walking around the hotel or trying to catch an elevator, there’s a good bet you were bumping into both conservatives and middle blockers, and setters.

Some of the athletes may be years away from voting, and not necessarily in Missouri, but still got some campaign swag.


If the kids seemed amused by what they walked into, the parents may have been less so. 

As the hallways filled the first, eighth, tenth and eleventh floors at the Hilton as Republicans moved from suite to suite, so did police, who said they’d received noise complaints from hotel management via some of the volleyball families. 

Some of the volleyball attendees also got a lesson in political gamesmanship, when they had fliers placed under their doors intended for would-be GOP attendees.

State Rep. Adam Schwadron, R-St. Charles, a candidate for secretary of state, hit State Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, for authoring a bill that passed last year restoring a tax credit for motion pictures and other entertainment filmed in state, and other votes on bills related to foreign ownership of farmland and abortion.

Some of the girls, now wearing Hoskins T-shirts and their pajamas, sought out Schwadron in the hotel Saturday morning for clarification.

“That flier is obviously what we all hate about politics, just gutter politics,” Hoskins said. “I’m very proud of my conservative voting record and unfortunately when you’re the leader in the polls and you have this type of gutter politics by one of my opponents that just drags me down to his level.”

Schwadron, who in a previous interview earlier Saturday was critical of the GOP divisions in the State Senate surrounding Hokins and other members of the Freedom Caucus, said later it was fair game to draw distinctions.

“Your voting record is public and so how you vote matters, especially when it’s coming from someone who has criticized so many other Republicans for voting differently than he complains that they campaign,” he said. 

“I did not expect volleyball players to be involved in it, but after having a conversation with them I think I was able to win them over because of my knowledge of volleyball and explaining that my daughter just today (Saturday) did a back set for the first time.”

Bad weather and family commitments kept some of the statewide candidates from attending, including Bailey, who is locked in a two-way battle with Will Scharf, a former Greitens aide, federal prosecutor and now an attorney for former President Donald Trump.

But timed to the Lincoln Days event, the Bailey campaign launched a digital attack ad hitting Scharf on his family’s New York roots and the fact that he had only eight Missouri contributors listed on his last campaign finance report.

“I spent most of this week writing briefs for President Trump in front of the US Supreme Court so I haven’t paid a ton of attention to it, I think they’re really worried about us and I think that shows with the sort of desperation that they exhibited,” Scharf responded. 

Observing the swipes in the other races, State Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, one of four declared GOP candidates for state treasurer, was optimistic.

“I suspect that that won’t happen in my race. I think our race will be a little bit more civil but I think we’ll be focused more on the issues itself,” he said.

Governor’s forum

Heading into the weekend, the race for governor seemed to be the one ready-made for fireworks as Kehoe, Ashcroft, Eigel and Joplin businessman Chris Wright were in a candidate forum Saturday afternoon. 

The ground rules for the event included restrictions when it came to direct attacks on candidates and they couldn’t question eachother. As St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum noted, it was mostly a passive-aggressive exercise, as Eigel and Ashcroft knocked Kehoe’s support for raising the gas tax, with Kehoe responding that he’d endorsed $2B worth of other tax cuts. 

The gloves started to come off with nothing left to risk in closing statements, as Eigel, who is running third in polling with an insurgent-style campaign, struck at Ashcroft, the polling leader on name recognition and Kehoe, who holds a financial advantage.

“If you’re one of those folks that are angry and frustrated, don’t be afraid of the message that we can’t take our state back because I don’t have enough lobbyist money or I don’t have the right last name from my dad. We are going to take this state back,” he said, prompting the only boos during the event.

Wright used his closing words and an interview afterward to call for unity.

“They will literally band together no matter how ridiculous it sounds to fight for their cause,” Wright said of Democrats. “On the Republican side, we have a lot of what I feel sometimes are egos, they don’t want to work together for whatever reason, and there’s a lot of fighting because they’re not banding together for a conservative or Republican cause.”

Hawley said the intense primaries are a sign of a party with a deep bench. The Republican candidates will likely be heavy favorites in each general election contest. As of this writing, no Democrat has stepped forward to announce a campaign for secretary of state, the office that oversees elections, regulates securities, and is also the state librarian. The only Democratic party race with an active primary featuring any sort of financial backing or name recognition is the one for governor, where Minority Floor Leader Crystal Quade is running against Springfield businessman Mike Hamra.

Hawley deflected when asked if the heated GOP primaries would impact whether he offers any endorsements.

“They want to serve, they think this is a critical time they think Missouri is a critical state to be serving in and they’re right….We’ve got great candidates up and down the ballot,” he said. 

“I’ll be a primary voter in August so I look forward to casting my ballot.”