For weeks, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) has been mired in a scandal stemming from an extramarital affair. And now Greitens is getting blamed for a shock Republican loss in a state legislative special election.
Democrat Mike Revis beat Republican David Linton by four points Tuesday in a state assembly district that has trended steadily rightward in recent years. Donald Trump won it by 28 points in 2016.
“The fact that that we lost that race is at the feet of the governor,” Scott Dieckhaus, the former executive director of the Missouri House Republican Campaign Committee, told TPM.
In mid-January, a local TV station published audio recorded in 2015 in which a woman with whom Greitens had an affair told her husband that Greitens took and threatened to release a nude photo of her if she went public about the affair. TPM has reported that the woman separately told her husband that Greitens slapped her after she told him she had slept with her husband.
Greitens has admitted to the affair but denied the photo blackmail attempt and alleged physical violence. But five GOP lawmakers have called for Greitens to step down, with some warning that the scandal could hurt the party.
Dieckhaus pointed to a series of polls of the district commissioned by state Republicans over the past two months as proof that it had. While Trump and the GOP’s net favorability both remained relatively strong and stable, Greitens’ plunged from plus 20 in late November to negative 13, with just 36 percent approving, the week after the scandal broke.
“The [Republican] candidate was poor, Democratic enthusiasm is obviously high, but those are still the types of things that we’ve been able to overcome for over a decade,” Dieckhaus continued, noting that the GOP has held the district since 2010. “So when you look at the polling the only thing that stands out is the scandal with the governor.”
A GOP strategist who requested anonymity to speak candidly said he too believes Greitens was among the factors dragging down the Republican candidate.
“Something was awry,” the strategist said. “My initial instinct is that it’s not President Trump. But something changed in the last few weeks.”
Revis, the Democratic candidate, didn’t make Greitens’ scandal a centerpiece of his campaign, instead focusing on issues like the governor’s support for Right-to-Work legislation, which is strongly opposed by labor unions. But at least one outside group backing Revis ran an online ad that opened with a series of headlines about the scandal, and about a separate pay-to-play allegation that has dogged the governor.
— Roy Temple (@roytemple) February 7, 2018
“Dieckhaus has it right,” Roy Temple, a leading Missouri Democratic operative, told TPM in an email. “Governor Greitens is an anchor around the neck of the Missouri GOP and there’s no reason to believe that’s likely to get better any time soon.”
The GOP strategist who requested anonymity told TPM he’d heard that state Democrats specifically made phone calls and did other outreach to female voters about the charges against Greitens.
A spokesperson for the Missouri Democratic Party did not immediately return TPM’s request for comment.
Other Republican operatives weren’t so sure that the governor had anything to do with the GOP loss—or that the result necessarily has implications for November. They noted that Republicans won the three other open statehouse seats on Tuesday, securing easy victories in two heavily red districts and a close win in the third.
“Special elections, especially really low turnout ones in statehouse districts, are not really indicative,” a different Missouri GOP strategist told TPM, predicting that Revis will lose his seat in November when more Republican voters turn out for the U.S. Senate and State Auditor’s race.
Whether Greitens does end up dragging down the state GOP in the fall will hinge largely on what happens in the interim—and especially on the results of an investigation into the allegations being conducted by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner.
According to a lawyer for the ex-husband of the woman with whom the governor had the affair, Gardner this week convened a grand jury—a sign that the probe into Greitens may only be escalating.