Eric Greitens, the former Navy SEAL officer who rose quickly to become Missouri governor before scandal forced him out of office just a year and a half into his tenure, announced Monday he will run for the Senate seat being vacated by fellow Republican Roy Blunt.
After weeks of speculation, Greitens confirmed on Fox News that he would pursue the seat in 2022. He launched a campaign website in coordination with his Fox appearance.
"I've been so encouraged by the people of Missouri that I'm happy to announce tonight that I'm running for the United States Senate to continue serving the people of Missouri," Greitens told host Bret Baier.
"The people of Missouri need a fighter in the United States Senate," Greitens said, promising to fight for former President Donald Trump's agenda.
He rattled off a list of accomplishments from his short tenure as governor, but he glossed over the scandals that caused him to resign midway through his second year in office.
Greitens, a Republican, stepped down from office in 2018 in the face of his likely impeachment by the GOP-led Missouri House. He faced allegations he photographed a woman nude without her consent in 2015 in an effort to keep her from speaking about an extramarital affair.
An investigation by the Missouri House uncovered additional allegations of sexual and physical abuse against the woman, who was Greitens' hairdresser. Greitens, who announced a divorce last year, has admitted to the affair but has repeatedly denied claims of blackmail and violent sexual abuse.
The GOP-led committee investigating the allegations found the woman's testimony credible and the Missouri House began impeachment proceedings in the spring of 2018.
Greitens was charged with felony invasion of privacy in St. Louis, but the case was dropped a day before trial after Greitens' attorneys sought to call St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner as a witness.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker was appointed as a special prosecutor and said there was probable cause of sexual assault. However, Peter Baker declined to file charges because of a lack of physical evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt because of the passage of time.
Greitens faced an unrelated felony charge for computer tampering related to an investigation of the charity he founded, The Mission Continues. Gardner dropped those charges as part of an agreement that was contingent on Greitens' resignation.
In the years since his resignation, Greitens has gradually sought to restore his public image.
He rejoined the Navy in 2019 after lobbying by then-Vice President Mike Pence on his behalf. In 2020, he founded a charity, VirusRelief, that made a series of highly publicized deliveries of protective masks to police and fire departments around the state during the throes of the pandemic.
Greitens' allies have contended the former governor was cleared of wrongdoing after the charges were dropped and one of the investigators in the St. Louis case was charged with perjury in 2019.
However, current and former officials from both parties have rejected the efforts to scrub Greitens' image.
"No, @EricGreitens was not exonerated. Instead of watching YouTube, read the report of the MO House Special Investigative Cmte on Oversight. Sworn testimony > spin videos," former U.S. Attorney for Western Missouri Tim Garrison said on Twitter last week.
Garrison, a Republican who served in Trump's administration, is another potential candidate for Blunt's seat.
Democrats greeted Greitens' re-emergence with disapproval.
"Predictable and tragic," said Geoff Gerling, executive director of the Jackson County Democratic Committee. "Anyone with a moral compass is a viable challenger to Eric Greitens."
However, Greitens remains popular with a significant portion of the GOP electorate and could prevail with a plurality in what will likely be a crowded primary to replace Blunt.
James Harris, a Jefferson City-based Republican strategist, said Greitens enters the race as the frontrunner or close to it.
"When you're the governor, you have near-universal name ID, irrespective of political party," Harris said. "I think he starts off in a good position."
If Greitens wins the Republican nomination, he might give Democrats their strongest opportunity in a state where they have lost ground in statewide races in recent elections.
"There's a faction of the state GOP that still reveres Eric Greitens. He might win his party's nomination. But I have faith that Missourians won't elect an abuser as their United States senator," said state Sen. Lauren Arthur, a Democrat who represents the Kansas City Northland.
Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft is considered a potentially strong candidate for the Senate seat based on his name recognition and political lineage. Ashcroft is the son of John Ashcroft, who was a governor, senator and U.S. attorney general under President George W. Bush.
St. Louis University political scientist Ken Warren said Ashcroft "has a statewide office. He's got a great Republican name. I think that Greitens is very damaged goods."
The Associated Press and the Kansas City Star contributed to this report.