GOP Missouri Attorney General Schmitt running for US Senate

FILE - In this Aug. 6, 2020 file photo, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt speaks during a news conference in St. Louis. Schmitt announced Wednesday, March 24, 2021, that he's making a bid for retiring U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt's seat. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 6, 2020 file photo, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt speaks during a news conference in St. Louis. Schmitt announced Wednesday, March 24, 2021, that he's making a bid for retiring U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt's seat. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt on Wednesday announced he's making a bid to replace Roy Blunt in the Senate, setting up a Republican primary against disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens.

Schmitt is a strong contender with a record of winning statewide elections and is backed by Missouri mega-donor Rex Sinquefield.

In a written release, Schmitt pushed his conservative credentials, tied himself to former President Donald Trump and railed against “the radical left.”

“Missourians know from my public service that they can count on me to stand up to the Biden administration, fight to preserve President Trump’s America First agenda and keep this seat in safe pro-Trump Republican hands," Schmitt said.

He highlighted his December decision to add Missouri to a list of more than 15 states that asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case challenging President Joe Biden's election victory.

And on Wednesday, Schmitt and officials from a dozen other states sued the Biden administration to end a suspension of new oil and gas leases on federal land and water, and to reschedule canceled sales of leases in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska waters and western states.

Blunt's March 8 announcement not to run for another term opened the floodgates for ambitious Republicans interested in succeeding him. But the GOP field is narrowing. Early favorite Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft bowed out, as did Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe.

Political scientists have speculated that Republicans are trying to unify around a single candidate to avoid a potentially damaging primary. Greitens' candidacy complicates that.

Greitens, who has been laying the groundwork for a comeback for months if not years, is a polarizing figure unpopular with the state's Republican establishment.

The former Navy SEAL officer was once seen as a rising star in Republican politics, possibly even a future presidential candidate.

Those aspirations seemed to vanish in 2018 when his extramarital affair was exposed. A felony charge accused him of taking a compromising photo of the woman as potential blackmail if she spoke of their encounters.

Greitens then faced a second criminal charge accusing him of using a donor list from his charity for his political campaign.

Greitens, who is now divorced, admitted to the affair but denied wrongdoing in both cases. Still, he resigned in June 2018 and the criminal cases were dismissed.

He maintains a core of support that could be enough to win a primary, but political observers have said the scandals that pushed him out of the governor's mansion could thwart his chances of taking the U.S. Senate seat.

Schmitt in his announcement alluded to the threat of Republicans losing the Senate seat if Greitens wins the GOP nomination, saying Missouri needs “a leader who can hold this Senate seat in firm Republican hands without giving Democrats any chance to take this seat back.”

“In my public service, I have never quit fighting for Missouri and our conservative values,” Schmitt said. “Missourians deserve a life-long conservative who they know will never quit fighting for them.”

Other potential Republican contenders for the Senate seat include U.S. Reps. Ann Wagner and Jason Smith, both members of Missouri's congressional delegation.

Voters first elected Schmitt to the state Senate in 2008 to represent a suburban St. Louis district. He was elected state treasurer in 2016, then took over as the state attorney general after Josh Hawley vacated the seat to join the U.S. Senate in 2019.

He won another term as attorney general in 2020.

Democrats seeking the Senate seat are Marine veteran Lucas Kunce, former state Sen. Scott Sifton and activist Timothy Shepard.