Missouri Senate Hopeful Lucas Kunce Battles Big Money in Both Parties

Missouri Senate Hopeful Lucas Kunce Battles Big Money in Both Parties

There is a good debate to be had about whether newspaper endorsements still carry the weight in political races that they once did. But if Missouri Democrats are serious about winning the race for that state’s open US Senate seat, they will pay close attention to the reasoning of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board than they do to ads from millionaire candidates and special-interest groups that are flooding the state’s airwaves.

With just days to go before the August 2 Democratic primary, the historically influential Post-Dispatch published a robust endorsement of progressive populist Lucas Kunce. But that’s not all it did: It also offered a sharp rebuke of Democratic Party insiders who imagine that a self-funding millionaire with limited political experience would be a better prospect than one of the most dynamic young candidates who is not afraid to call out Wall Street and the politicians who do its bidding.

Kunce, who did tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan with the US Marines before serving as the international negotiations officer on the Joint Staff of the Pentagon and then as the director of national security for the American Economic Liberties Project, has received a lot of endorsements in the primary contest. The League of Conservation Voters says, “As a veteran and national security professional, Lucas Kunce understands the importance of transitioning to a clean energy economy for the safety and security of our country and our communities.” The Progressive Change Campaign Committee says, “Lucas Kunce is the kind of Democrat that can win in Missouri—and fight for Missouri families against Big Ag, Big Pharma, and other corporations controlling our farmland and economy.” Ferguson Mayor Ella Jones says, “I have lived in injustice all my life, so when I throw my support behind someone, it’s because I believe that person will fight injustice. Lucas Kunce will stand up to injustice.”

Pro-Choice Missouri has endorsed Kunce, as have MoveOn, Vote Vets, Common Defense, the United Rural Democrats, and St. Louis’s Fannie Lou Hamer Coalition.

But the Post-Dispatch endorsement stands out, as it comes from the state’s largest-circulation newspaper, which has gained respect among Democrats, progressive independents, and rational Republicans for its sharp critique of Republican Senator Josh Hawley and other supporters of former President Donald Trump’s attempted coup on January 6, 2021.

The editorial board got straight to the point in its endorsement:

The contest among the top Democratic Party primary contenders for U.S. Senate is really no contest at all. Voters heading to the polls next Tuesday should enthusiastically support attorney and Marine veteran Lucas Kunce, who is by far the most agile and well-prepared candidate to take on the uphill challenge of defeating the Republican nominee in the general election.

Kunce is smart, energetic and experienced in a broad level of military and foreign-policy fields. And his upbringing in a struggling blue-collar family gives him the ability to talk to rural as well as urban Missourians in ways that his Republican counterparts cannot. Kunce, 39, is a self-described populist who knows the needs of struggling families firsthand and offers realistic solutions instead of trying to win voters over with blowtorch-and-gunfire silliness

Unlike silver-spoon freshman Republican Senator Josh Hawley, who once staged a hayride to feign an interest in rural Missourians’ needs, Kunce can back up his Yale education with actual stories of his parents’ struggle through bankruptcy and family medical hardship. Yet he and Hawley might actually be able to work together since they share a common interest in breaking up big corporate monopolies.

Perhaps the most striking part of the editorial was its argument against the other leading Democrat in the race for the Senate nomination. Noting that the likely Republican nominee—either scandal-plagued former governor Eric Greitens or Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt—will be a cynical political careerist cut from the same cloth as Trump, the paper counseled against nominating an easy target for the GOP’s faux-populists. That was a clear reference to Trudy Busch Valentine, the 65-year-old heir to the Anheuser-Busch brewing fortune who entered the Democratic contest just before the filing deadline and promptly began spending millions of her own wealth on a TV ad campaign.

Busch Valentine is currently “outspending rival Lucas Kunce by almost 5-1 on television ads,” reported the Missouri Independent. Her campaign has purchased $1.9 million in ads so far—a number likely to increase significantly by primary day. Kunce’s campaign has held its own in the fundraising department, thanks to thousands of small donations averaging $30 each. But he is now getting hit with an onslaught of negative ads funded by Busch Valentine, who is attacking the ardently pro-choice Kunce for allegedly being unreliable on reproductive rights issues. Kunce’s backers charge that the millionaire is trying to distract primary voters from her controversial past involvement with what the Post-Dispatch has described as the “historically racist” Veiled Prophet organization—for which she apologized after entering the Senate contest—and her many stumbles as a first-time candidate.

Since entering the race, Busch Valentine has been criticized for sending mixed signals when asked about transgender rights, “critical race theory,” and other issues being weaponized by the right, and for failing to respond to an invitation to participate in debates with Kunce and the other Democratic primary contenders.

The argument that Busch Valentine might improve as a candidate was dispelled by the Post-Dispatch editorial board, which noted:

We grilled both candidates in interviews, and Busch Valentine came off as unprepared and unconvincing. She would not fare well in a debate against the likes of Greitens or Schmitt—which might explain why she refuses to appear in a television debate against Kunce. The contrast between the two couldn’t be more stark.

That contrast is vital, because the Democratic nominee will have to face a Republican in a state that Trump won twice. There will be no margin of error.

The Post-Dispatch believes that

Kunce can match them head-to-head and toe-to-toe in pretty much any subject. If Greitens tries to assert himself as a macho ex-SEAL, Kunce can counter with a record that includes more and longer deployments than Greitens in actual Afghan and Iraqi combat zones. Plus, Kunce has represented the United States in arms negotiations with Russia. He actually knows what he’s talking about and wouldn’t embarrass the state as Schmitt has done with his ridiculous lawsuit against China over responsibility for the coronavirus pandemic.

More importantly, Lucas Kunce can make a genuine progressive populist appeal that distinguishes him from millionaire candidates in both parties. He’s not a millionaire. He grew up in a working-class family that went through bankruptcy because of medical bills. He is a fierce critic of Wall Street, corporate monopolies, racist and xenophobic leaders, and big money in politics.

On his campaign website, Kunce rips into the corporate politicians who helped “ship jobs and opportunities out of our state for decades.” And he promises that his “number one mission is to fundamentally change who has power in this country.”

Beating the big-money politics that give us millionaire candidates and compromise governance is the first step in that process, which explains why the Post-Dispatch is so enthusiastic about Kunce.

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