Published July 20th, 2022 at 12:16 PM
The political action committee backing independent Senate candidate John Wood is “in it to win it,” former Sen. Jack Danforth said a day after the PAC spent another $750,000 on TV ads to run before the Aug. 2 primary.
Danforth contributed $5 million on June 6 to Missouri Stands United, and by June 24 ads featuring Danforth talking about the need for a new path were on the air in Springfield, St. Louis and Kansas City.
The ad buy on Monday, bringing television spending by the PAC to $2.2 million, was entirely in Kansas City and St. Louis markets. The PAC has spent more than any candidate committee and is third in TV spending in the Senate race to replace retiring Sen. Roy Blunt.
The PAC intends to raise $20 to $40 million for the fall campaign. Danforth said he doesn’t yet have all the commitments needed to meet that budget. He will not personally fund the entire effort, he said.
Danforth, a Republican who was Missouri attorney general, a U.S. Senator and ambassador to the United Nations, has inherited wealth. He is the grandson of the man who founded Ralston-Purina.
He said Tuesday that he has heard complaints Wood could draw votes away from the Republican nominee, electing a Democrat and endangering potential GOP control of the Senate.
“We’re not in this to be a spoiler,” Danforth said. “That’s for sure. We’re in it to win it and I believe that we can win it.”
Recent voting patterns in Missouri suggest that a spoiler role is the most likely result for Wood, said James Harris, a Republican consultant who is not working on a Senate campaign.
A Democratic candidate with no disqualifying negatives among the party’s base can count on at least 40- to 42% of the general election vote, Harris said.
If a badly damaged candidate like former Gov. Eric Greitens is the nominee, Harris said, an independent candidate who leans toward the right could come in second. If any other Republican running in the primary is the nominee, Harris said, Wood is more likely to be third. Either way, he said, it could propel the Democrat to victory.
“All a John Wood candidacy will do is help the Democrat candidate as he will try to peel off some Republican votes and some independent votes that would support more of a traditional conservative,” Harris said.
Wood, in an interview last month, described himself as “a mainstream conservative Republican” who backs lower taxes, less government regulation and gun rights. He said he supports the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade that made abortion illegal in Missouri and a near-universal ban on abortion.
Wood was senior investigative counsel for the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol before he decided to run for the Senate.
The path to victory for Wood, Danforth said, is to make the future of democracy the main issue.
The ads from Missouri Stands United emphasize that democracy is at risk from extremism in both major parties.
That message transcends views on any particular issue and can unite Republicans, Democrats and independent voters, Danforth said.
“There are just a ton of people who think that their party loyalty is important to them, but that it is in second place compared to what’s happening in our country,” Danforth said.
Wood will be on the November ballot as an independent if he collects 10,000 signatures from registered voters before Aug. 1. The Associated Press reported this week that Wood believes he has met that goal but will try to turn in 20,000 or more signatures to allow for rejections.
That means there will be at least five choices in November – Wood, the Republican and Democratic nominees, chosen Aug. 2, and the Libertarian and Constitution party candidates who are unopposed in their primaries.
Danforth said he expects one of the leading Republican candidates – Greitens, Attorney General Eric Schmitt and U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler – to win the GOP nomination. Of the 21-candidate field, Greitens, Schmitt and Hartzler are the only to regularly poll 20% or more of the vote.
“My own view is that they’re pretty much indistinguishable, the three of them,” Danforth said.
Danforth first started talking about backing an independent in February, when results of a poll showed Missouri voters were open to a third choice. Nearly two-thirds said they wanted an alternative to the major parties, 72% said both parties are too extreme and 80% said the country is close to a constitutional crisis because of partisanship.
Those concerns are real, Harris acknowledged, but the issues most important to voters right now are inflation and the economy in general.
“I see no scenario where more than 3- to 5% of Democrats vote for someone other than the Democrat nominee,” Harris said.
Danforth said he thinks political professionals will be surprised but would not give specifics of what more recent surveys show.
“I’m not going to disclose any polling information to you right this second, but the indications are that we are making headway,” Danforth said.
Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature in Missouri. This story first appeared on the Missouri Independent, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering state government, politics and policy.