KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Republican former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens led Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster Tuesday night in a Missouri governor’s race that offered voters a vivid choice between experience and a fresh start.
Greitens, a first-time candidate, has touted himself as an outsider and pledged to tackle corruption in the state Capitol. Koster took the opposite approach, emphasizing that his nearly 22 years in elected office make him qualified to run state government.
In early returns tabulated by The Associated Press, Greitens held a double-digit lead in the battle to succeed Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who was barred by term limits from running again. But few votes were in from Kansas City and St. Louis, the state’s largest Democratic areas.
In the Kansas City suburb of Grandview, 66-year-old Richard Ornce sided with Chris Koster in the state’s governor’s race, citing his experience. Ornce, an Army airborne ranger during the Vietnam War, said Greitens has “been pushing his Navy SEAL stuff but having little to say about the issues.”
Sixty-one-year-old Mary Beck, an assistant nursing professor from Columbia, said she voted for Greitens because he has “fresh eyes.” The Republican also was impressed with Greitens’ military experience, saying it provided him with leadership skills.
Koster and Greitens each had raised about $27 million as of Oct. 27, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. When combined with fundraising from three other unsuccessful Republican candidates, this year’s gubernatorial field already has raised more than $72 million — two and a half times the previous record of more than $28 million set in the 2008 gubernatorial campaign.
Without a voting record, Greitens is running on his time as a Navy SEAL officer and founder of a charity for veterans, The Mission Continues.
Greitens’ lengthy resume also includes stints as a Rhodes scholar and White House fellow, champion boxer and martial artist, a best-selling author and motivational speaker.
Once courted by Democrats to run for office, Greitens now describes himself as anti-abortion, opposes President Barack Obama’s health care law, supports gun rights and pledges to enact a right-to-work law barring mandatory union fees.
Greitens broke with tradition this election and refused to disclose his tax records. The Missouri Democratic Party chairman last month filed an ethics complaint against his campaign after The Associated Press reported that a political consultant had access to a spreadsheet of donors to The Mission Continues while working for Greitens’ gubernatorial exploratory committee, arguing the list should have been reported as an in-kind contribution.
Greitens’ ads slam Koster as a career politician and attempt to tie him to Obama, the president’s health care law and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
A former Republican, Koster now calls himself a conservative Democrat, and he ran a centrist campaign. He supports expanding eligibility to low-income adults in Missouri under the terms of the Affordable Care Act, but says there are flaws with the law. He also wants to increase the minimum wage, opposes right to work, supported a Republican-backed income tax cut passed in 2014 and earned endorsements from the National Rifle Association and Missouri Farm Bureau — groups that typically back Republicans.
Koster’s time in elected office includes a decade as Cass County prosecutor and a four-year term as a state senator. He switched parties in 2007 before running a successful campaign for attorney general.
He’s won over some skeptics since then, but Koster’s party change didn’t sit well with Grandview voter Spencer Warren. He described himself as an independent and voted for the Constitution Party’s candidate for president Tuesday.
“I don’t trust a man who switches political parties,” said Warren, a 48-year-old magazine writer and former newspaperman who rolled up at the polling place on a Harley, puffing a cigarette.
Koster’s ads highlight his policy positions and experience as prosecutor and attorney general. In a jab at Greitens, he quips that Missouri governor “is not an entry-level job.”