Race rating: Missouri Senate stays Solid Republican for now

Messy primary seems inevitable after Blunt decides not to run

Roy Blunt is the fifth Republican senator to retire this cycle, but Missouri’s partisan lean will likely keep his seat in party hands, Gonzales writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Roy Blunt is the fifth Republican senator to retire this cycle, but Missouri’s partisan lean will likely keep his seat in party hands, Gonzales writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 8, 2021 at 1:50pm

ANALYSIS — Sen. Roy Blunt’s decision to not seek reelection in Missouri sets off a scramble to replace him on the Republican side and leaves Democrats with only a marginally better takeover opportunity at this early stage of the cycle.

Blunt is the fifth GOP senator to announce his retirement this cycle, joining Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, Rob Portman of Ohio, Richard M. Burr of North Carolina and Richard C. Shelby of Alabama. At 87 years old, Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley is a retirement possibility, and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson is contemplating not running again as well. No Democrats so far have said they will not seek reelection.

For some perspective, five retirements is the most a party has had in a cycle since Democrats had seven senators in their conference not running in 2012 (including Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman). Both parties each had six senators retire in 2010, according to Vital Statistics on Congress.

Remember, it is unwise to draw dramatic conclusions simply from which party has more open Senate seats. The number of retirements is not predictive of the final gain or loss of Senate seats in a cycle. 

In 2020, Republicans outpaced Democrats in Senate retirements and lost control of the chamber. But none of the four seats Republicans lost was an open one. In 2018, Republicans had more Senate retirements than Democrats but gained two seats. Democrats had more Senate retirements in 2016 but picked up two seats.

The location of the state and its partisan lean are more important than the open seat itself.

We did not consider Missouri a battleground before Blunt’s decision and do not consider it a battleground after his decision, at least not yet. Open seats can make things more complicated for the Republicans, and a messy primary seems inevitable. But Blunt not seeking reelection does not automatically make the seat vulnerable. 

The situation is somewhat similar to Ohio, where Portman isn’t running again. But unlike in Ohio, the Democratic bench in Missouri is sparse. The party’s biggest names — former Sen. Claire McCaskill, 2016 Senate nominee/former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, and state Auditor/2020 gubernatorial nominee Nicole Galloway — have already ruled out runs.

The only Democrat currently in the race is former state Sen. Scott Sifton, who represented a St. Louis district from 2013 to 2021.

Potential Republican candidates include former Gov. Eric Greitens, Rep. Ann Wagner, state Attorney General Eric Schmitt, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (son of the former senator and governor), retired NASCAR driver Carl Edwards and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe. Greitens resigned office in disgrace in May 2018, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t win a statewide race again.

President Donald Trump won the Show-Me State by 15 points in 2020 and by more than 18 points in 2016. According to Inside Elections Baseline metric, Republicans have a 56 percent to 41 percent advantage here, which means an average GOP candidate would defeat an average Democratic candidate by 15 points. Kander gave Blunt a serious challenge in 2016, but the senator still prevailed by 3 points. 

Each party has four vulnerable seats on the Senate battleground, and Republicans just need to gain a single seat to get back into the majority.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst for CQ Roll Call.