These GOP candidates for Senate agreed to a joint poll of Missourians, with the loser dropping out

By Chuck Raasch |

 

Two candidates for the GOP nomination for Missouri’s U.S. Senate race agreed in writing that one would drop out of the race after a joint poll determined which of the two had the better chance to defeat state Attorney General Josh Hawley in the Aug. 7 primary.

One of the candidates, Austin Petersen, said Thursday that the other, Tony Monetti, has withdrawn from the agreement. But Monetti told the Post-Dispatch hours later that he still wants to go ahead with it.

Monetti blamed Petersen’s campaign manager, Jeffrey Carson, for making demands and interjecting arguments that scuttled the plan.

Petersen said in an interview that Monetti told him Wednesday he would not honor an agreement he had signed April 13. But Monetti subsequently told the Post-Dispatch that he wants to try to iron out differences — mainly involving which questions to ask on the poll — in subsequent conversations, including before a debate in suburban St. Louis on Friday night.

The dispute adds another layer of debate over trust in the GOP Senate primary. Hawley has been attacked by his rivals for ridiculing politicians who try to use one election to climb to another during his successful 2016 campaign for state attorney general.

The winner of the primary will face incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill in November.

The unusual agreement came, Petersen said, from an entreaty from Monetti in early April.

“About a month ago he approached us and asked us to drop out, and we were pretty confident that we were the premier grass-roots campaign with the real chance to beat Josh Hawley and then Claire McCaskill,” Petersen said. “But we knew that if we split up the grass-roots vote that we weren’t going to be able to accomplish that, so we just proposed to Monetti (that) instead of us dropping out, why don’t we try to unite the grass roots?”

Now that Monetti has backed out, he said, “absolutely, we are going to make an issue of this because one of the primary reasons why I am running against Josh Hawley is he couldn’t keep his promise to Missouri voters six months into his first year of his first term.”

“I don’t trust politicians, especially those who say one thing and do another,” Petersen said. “Monetti is trying to position himself as a good guy, who is trustworthy, and that is no longer the case.”

Monetti blamed Petersen.

“It is clear to me they have circumvented what I was planning on doing, which was to negotiate what are the questions of the polls as a minimum,” he said.

“I am ready to do this if he wants to do it.”

He said he and Petersen were on a “similar understanding” and that “there is more to this story, I promise you.”

“We are not going to beat the establishment and young Josh with both of us in the race, we both know that,” Monetti said. “The only way we are going to do that is unify but … everything comes down to one poll, man.”

He said he was disappointed the dispute was going public.

“Are you kidding me, man?” Monetti said. “This is what politics are all about. This is why people are sick and tired of these people.”

The “grassroots candidate unity agreement” says that “in order to provide Missouri voters with a clear, viable, grassroots alternative to the establishment backed candidate, the leading grassroots challengers take it upon themselves to organize a penultimate primary.”

“The ‘pre-primary’ is a winner-take-all contest,” the agreement continues. “The winner will move forward in the GOP Primary to face the establishment pick head-on, and the runners-up will not. The runners-up will concede, endorse the winner, and remove their names from the Primary ballot.”

The agreement stipulates that only those who had raised $250,000 for their campaigns could participate. That eliminates Courtland Sykes, a fourth announced primary candidate who reported raising less than $20,000 and having $163 in his campaign account as of April 1.

Monetti is an Air Force veteran who piloted B-52s in the Gulf War, then flew B-2s before retiring as a lieutenant colonel, according to an online biography. He left the Air Force in 2012 and has run an Italian restaurant in Warrensburg, Mo.

“Career politicians are on notice,” Monetti told “The Sentinel,” an online publication that covers western Missouri and Kansas. “The people, patriots, veterans and constitutional conservatives are taking America back.”

Monetti raised $384,000 for his campaign through March, and had about $44,000 left in his campaign coffers as of April 1, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Petersen, who unsuccessfully sought the Libertarian nomination for president in 2016, raised $434,000 through March and had just under $71,000 cash on hand.

He says he was “born in Independence and raised in Peculiar, near a town called Liberty” — a reference to three Missouri towns.

“It’s time to put Washington in its place as the protector of our most cherished liberties,” Petersen says on his internet site. “It’s time to put people in their rightful place as the governors of their own destinies.”

Petersen was among the first federal candidates to accept the cryptocurrency bitcoin for campaign donations.

The signed agreement does not name Hawley, only referring to him as the “GOP establishment pick.” It says that “it is estimated that the GOP establishment pick will garner approximately 50 percent of the Primary vote, plus or minus 5 percent. It is also estimated that the anti-establishment, grassroots, liberty and MAGA (Make America Great Again) contingent will garner approximately the same.”

It continues: “Simply put, there is no logical mathematical way that the anti-establishment, grassroots, liberty and MAGA contingent can beat the GOP establishment pick, unless bold measures are taken.”

The document shows Petersen signed it on April 11, Monetti on April 13. The poll was to have been taken between May 14 and May 18, with a news conference on May 21 to announce the winner, while “runners-up remove names from ballot.”

Monetti and Petersen are expected to participate in a Senate candidate forum Friday night at Rockwood Summit High, 1780 Hawkins Road, in Fenton. Radio host Jamie Allman, formerly of KFTK, is expected to emcee, with Ed Martin, a former Republican state chairman and former CNN commentator, asking questions.

Sykes has also signed up, but Hawley, who has been endorsed by President Donald Trump, will not attend. Hawley will be at a campaign event in Sikeston, his communications director, Kelli Ford, said.

McCaskill has built a huge fundraising lead over all of her challengers, raising almost $18.5 million through March, and showing $11.7 million in the bank as of April 1.

 

This article was published on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on May 11, 2018 and was written by Chuck Raasch