Missouri’s already crowded and combustible GOP Senate primary is turning even more chaotic, with calls for the polling front-runner in the race to drop out after facing new allegations of spousal and child abuse.
But former Gov. Eric Greitens is pushing back against the allegations from his ex-wife and from the calls from his rivals to suspend his campaign. The former governor – who’s no stranger to scandals – says the allegations are "baseless" and charges that longtime Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell may have had a hand in the burgeoning controversy.
And a Republican political consultant close to the Greitens campaign told Fox News there’s "no indication he's going to drop out."
The allegations exploded like a bomb on Monday when Sheena Greitens, the disgraced former governor’s ex-wife who now lives in Texas with their two children, claimed in a court filing that he abused her and their children. The allegations were part of an affidavit filed in a Missouri court as part of her push to have a child custody case moved to Texas.
"In early June 2018, I became afraid for my safety and that of our children at our home, which was fairly isolated, due to Eric's unstable and coercive behavior," Sheena Greitens said, according to court records. "This behavior included physical violence toward our children, such as cuffing our then three-year-old son across the face at the dinner table in front of me and yanking him around by his hair."
Greitens quickly denied the allegations.
"Being a father is the joy of my life and my single most important responsibility," he said in a statement. "I will continue to love and care for my beautiful sons with all of my being, and that includes fighting for the truth and against completely fabricated, baseless allegations."
Greitens, who left office in 2018 amid a sex scandal and campaign misconduct charges, holds an edge in the most recent public opinion polls over his top rivals for the GOP nomination in the race to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Roy Blunt in a one-time swing state that’s turned increasingly red over the past two decades.
Among the other leading contenders in the primary battle are Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Rep. Vicky Hartzler in the 4th Congressional District, in the predominantly rural west-central part of the state. The other candidates in the race include Rep. Billy Long in the 7th Congressional District in southwest Missouri, and Mark McCloskey, the St. Louis attorney who along with his wife grabbed national headlines during the summer of 2020 for holding guns outside their home to warn off Black Lives Matter protesters.
Schmitt took to Twitter to argue "these allegations of abuse are disgusting and sickening" and charged that "the behavior described in this affidavit is cause for Eric Greitens to be in prison, not on the ballot for U.S. Senate. He should end his campaign immediately."
And Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who’s backing Hartzler, tweeted "if you hit a woman or a child, you belong in handcuffs, not the United States Senate. It’s time for Eric Greitens to leave this race."
Greitens came under attack last month by many of his rivals as they formally filed their campaigns for Senate and pointed to his controversies, questioning whether Democrats could flip what should be a safe GOP-held seat in an increasingly red state if the former governor wins the Senate nomination.
Greitens pushed back, noting that criminal charges of sexual misconduct were dropped and the former FBI agent who investigated the case was later indicted for perjury and tampering with evidence.
But the latest allegations will only fuel Greitens' rivals’ arguments that the former governor’s baggage would be a major liability in the general election.
The race for the GOP Senate nomination in Missouri has become a contest by the leading to contenders to showcase their support and loyalty for former President Donald Trump, who remains the most popular and influential politician in the Republican Party as he continues to play a kingmaker’s role in party primaries and repeatedly flirts with another White House run in 2024. But Trump to date has remained neutral in the race.
Greitens has long spotlighted his Trump credentials, telling Fox News in an interview in February at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that he’s "the only real America First candidate in this race."
And reiterating his pledge not to support McConnell, a top intra-party Trump rival, the former governor emphasized, "I’ve also been very clear that when I’m in the Senate, I’m going to vote for new America First leadership."
Now, Greitens appears to be partially blaming McConnell for the latest allegations.
In his statement on Monday, Greitens claimed that "while I was with my boys last week, sadly she [his ex-wife] was in Washington D.C. Sadly, political operatives and the liberal media peddle in lies."
And in an ensuing interview on Steve Bannon’s "War Room" podcast, Greitens charged that his ex-wife was "meeting with political operatives."
"The story about how the political operatives worked with Mitch McConnell’s supporters to bring this out is all coming to light," Greitens teased before claiming that "you’re going to be able to correct the dots directly to Mitch McConnell."
Sheena Greitens, in a statement on Tuesday, pushed back against her ex-husband’s claims, emphasizing that "I stand by my sworn statements. I did not discuss the contents of my affidavit with anyone other than my counsel and, after the affidavit was filed, my immediate family."
She went on to argue that "I am not interested in litigating this matter anywhere other than the courtroom."
And McConnell, speaking to reporters on Tuesday, said "I think all of the developments of the last twenty-four hours are things the people of Missouri are going to take into account. Both in the primary, and I would assume, would take into account in the general."