Greitens 2020? Could former Gov. Greitens run for governor again?
COLUMBIA - Free from the burden of a Missouri Ethics Commission investigation, could former Governor Eric Greitens be gearing up to make another run for governor in 2020?
While rumors have been going around Jefferson City for months, they were escalated following the commission's announcement on Thursday it was fining Greitens $178,000 for campaign finance violations.
Greitens called the report a "full exoneration," since it found he had no knowledge of the violations himself, but remains responsible since the campaign was under his name.
On Friday, Greitens claimed victory in interviews with a number of conservative media hosts, including one with St. Louis Host Jamie Allman on "Allman in the Morning."
Asked about his plans to run in 2020, Greitens told the host "anything is possible."
University of Missouri political science professor Peverill Squire said it is not a question about whether Greitens wants to run again.
"I'm sure he would like to resuscitate his career, he would probably like to burnish his image and prove it," he said. "There were a lot of questions raised about how we've generated campaign funds before and then we don't know what resources he might have available to him."
In addition to being short on time with the filing period open from February 25-March 31, there are questions as to whether Greitens would be able to secure the donors and financial resources to put up a fight against incumbent governor Mike Parson.
"I think there's a huge question as to whether or not Greitens wouldn't be able to raise any money to hear his close compatriots talk about it in the press lately," said Republican campaign consultant Greg Keller. "It sounds like most of his previous donors who funded his other campaigns have been scared off."
Keller said he has a hard time seeing Greitens throwing his hat into the ring in 2020.
"I think there's almost zero chance that Eric Greitens runs this cycle," he said. "I think even he realizes how badly his political brand has been tarnished by his own actions."
Those actions forced him to resign from office less than a year and a half after he was elected in 2016.
Still, Governor Parson's campaign is taking it seriously.
Last month, Uniting Missouri, a PAC supporting the governor's re-election campaign released a poll showing how the two would fare in a potential primary match up. In it, Parson beats Greitens by 26 points.
Both Squire and Keller said the campaign should not be too worried about Greitens. If anything, they are just covering their bases.
"I think they probably wanted to nip any potential challenge in the bud," Squire said. "I think they wanted to have information at their disposal that they could use to dissuade somebody from jumping in."
It is not clear how welcoming state lawmakers would be to Greitens. After all, they were on the verge of impeaching him before he left office in 2018.
"My guess is it would be hard for a lot of Republicans to support Greitens again," Squire said. "It would certainly allow people who would rather not have him in office to bring up a lot of things that still would be difficult for Republicans to talk about, and you have to remember it was a Republican legislature that was pushing him to leave office."
Considering how his first time in governor's office ended in scandal, there are questions as to whether it is too soon for Greitens to stage a comeback.
"It will take a long time for people to forget about the reasons that sort of drove Greitens from office and, and for him to revive his career is a fairly daunting task," Squire said.
The allegations against him include blackmail related to an extramarital relationship and computer tampering related to “dark money” campaign financing.
The Missouri Ethics Commission found Greitens campaign raised money using a donor list he got without permission from The Mission Continues, a charity he founded to help veterans readjust to life after service. Greitens had previously paid a small fine to the state’s Ethics Commission for failing to report it. He was also charged with a felony charge of computer tampering.
The blackmail scandal first surfaced when St. Louis television station KMOV reported the affair on Jan. 10. Its investigation largely centered on an audio recording made by the woman’s former husband.
On the recording, the woman can be heard crying, saying Greitens bound her hands with duct tape, blindfolded her and then took the nude picture without her consent.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner charged Greitens with invasion of privacy, but recently dropped the charge amid criticism of an investigator her office hired. A special prosecutor was designated to look into whether the case should be pursued.
Gardner's office also filed the computer tampering charge. Gardner released a statement today saying she has been in contact with Greitens' defense team over the past several days.
As part of a negotiated deal with prosecuters to drop the felony charges if he resigned. State lawmakers also dropped their investigation after he resigned.
Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker decided there was not enough evidence to file charges against Greitens for the 2015 affair.
Will he or won't he?
If Greitens were to get into the race, he would have a short window of time to assemble a campaign, which Squire said normally takes months. Governor Parson and Democratic state auditor Nicole Galloway both launched their campaigns in early fall.
"Right now Greitens would have a hard time reengineering his campaign apparatus since most of the people who work for him have gone on other things," Squire said. "A lot of his supporters are backing other people now. So I think it's something that people might want to think about and talk about, but it's difficult to actually put it into operation."
Keller said he does not see any political future in Missouri for the former governor. In part because of his refusal to accept responsibility for his actions.
"I would think that what he would need to do in order to gain back the trust of Missouri voters would be do what he has refused to do thus far, which is accept blame and responsibility for what he did, put forth a legitimate apology and hope to win his way back into the good graces of Missouri voters," Keller said.
Out of office and out of the conversation, this could just be an attempt by Greitens to keep his name in the conversation.
"I think that his name is an epithet and he is, at this point in time, a laughingstock and a punch line," Keller said. "I can't imagine he wants to go through the rest of his life with his name being a punch line as it currently is. So I would imagine that at the very least what he's trying to do is rehabilitate his own reputation."
Greitens, who was considered to be a rising star in the Republican party before he resigned has always had high aspirations. If he doesn't run this year, he could challenge Senator Roy Blunt in 2022 or Senator Josh Hawley in 2024.
But Keller said he doesn't think Greitens would do well there either. With more political ambitions on the horizon for Greitens, Keller said his best bet might be trying his luck in another state.