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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this March 25, 2014, file photo, Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., left, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Hartzler, a mid-Missouri Republican, says she'll make an announcement next week on a possible Senate run. Hartzler is among several GOP leaders said to be eyeing the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Roy Blunt, who announced in March he would not seek reelection in 2022. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke File)

U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a central Missouri Republican and a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, may be on the verge of joining the growing field of candidates for U.S. Senate in 2022, a seat crucial in the battle for Senate control.

Hartzler, who has served in Congress since 2011, said Thursday she'll make an announcement June 10 at Frontier Justice, a firearms store and shooting range in the Kansas City suburb of Lee's Summit.

The email from Hartzler reads like one from a candidate. She criticized China, said she worked with Trump to strengthen the military, and accused the Democratic Party of being taken over by "Socialists."

"I'm unafraid to proclaim my faith, the sanctity of life, my belief in freedom, personal responsibility, the rule of law, and our Constitutional rights," Hartzler wrote. "I'm with you in this fight. We're engaged in a winner-take-all contest for the heart, soul, and future of America."

Phone messages left with her congressional office spokesman and with Bob Huston, the treasurer for her congressional campaign, were not immediately returned.

Incumbent Sen. Roy Blunt announced in March that he would not seek a third term. He is among five Republican senators who are not seeking reelection, a retirement wave that portends a competitive campaign season next year and gives Democrats fresh hope in preserving their razor-thin Senate majority.

The announced GOP candidates, like Hartzler, are ardent Trump backers. They are former Gov. Eric Greitens, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, and St. Louis lawyer Mark McCloskey, who gained fame in June 2020 when he and his wife were charged with felonies for waving guns at racial injustice protesters who marched onto their private street.

Webster University political scientist Bill Hall said Hartzler's biggest obstacle is name recognition. Still, he believes the GOP candidate to replace Blunt could come down to whomever earns the support of Trump and Missouri's other senator, Josh Hawley.

"I see Trump still very strong, very influential," Hall said. "I see Hawley also strong in Missouri. If they should agree that one particular candidate will be the best candidate for the base, that candidate will be a formidable candidate to beat in the primary."

Five lesser-known Democrats also are running, but would face uphill battles in heavily-Republican Missouri. They include former state Sen. Scott Sifton, St. Louis County startup owner Spencer Toder, Marine veteran Lucas Kunce, Kansas City activist Tim Shepard and Air Force veteran Jewel Kelly.

Hartzler, 60, grew up on a farm in Cass County. The former home economics teachers was elected to the Missouri Legislature in 1994 and served six years. In 2010, she beat longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton in Missouri's largely rural 4th Congressional District.

Among her accomplishments: leading on legislation facilitating the adoption process. She also helped push through legislation in 2018 giving federal agencies the ability to take down drones used by cartels to transport drugs across the border with Mexico.

Schmitt has the backing of Missouri megadonor Rex Sinquefield. Greitens' entry into the race marked the start of what would be an epic political comeback for the former governor, a polarizing figure unpopular with the state's GOP establishment. The former Navy SEAL officer was once seen as a rising conservative star until scandal forced him from the governor's office in 2018.

Greitens maintains a core of support that could be enough to win a primary, but Hall and other political observers have said the scandals could make him less attractive to swing voters in the general election and open the door for a Democrat to win.

Associated Press writer Summer Ballentine in Columbia, Missouri, contributed to this report.

 

 

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