A Republican state lawmaker from Pacific is poised to jump into the race to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill next year.
Rep. Paul Curtman, a member of the Missouri Legislature since 2010, is expected to announce the formation of an exploratory committee for a Senate run next week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has learned.
The entrance of the Franklin County resident into the GOP primary field comes a week after U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner announced she was not going to run for the seat, sparking an uptick in speculation on who would take on McCaskill.
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is being recruited for the race by a handful of prominent Republicans. Treasurer Eric Schmitt has been mentioned as a potential entrant. Other potential candidates include U.S. Reps. Vicky Hartzler of Harrisonville and St. Louis attorney David Wasinger.
Former Libertarian presidential candidate Austin Petersen of Peculiar announced his plans to run on July 4. And, Tony Monetti, an assistant dean at the University of Central Missouri, also is running for the GOP nomination.
Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, is not "actively considering" a run for the Senate, his political director said Friday.
"While Congressman Smith appreciates the interest of other folks in putting his name forward for the United States Senate, it's not something he has thought about or is actively considering," Shelley Taylor, Smith's political director, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "He is entirely focused on effectively representing the families of southeast and south central Missouri in the US House of Representatives.
"There are numerous qualified individuals out there who may decide to run to represent Missourians in the U.S. Senate, but it's way too early to speculate about who will and won't ultimately decide to do so," Taylor said.
Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, has also not publicly expressed an interest in the Senate seat.
Luetkemeyer has been quietly trying to assemble support to become chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, where he already chairs a subcommittee. The current chair, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, is term-limited because of Republican caucus policy to rotate committee chairs.
Wagner told radio host Mark Reardon on KMOX on Thursday that House colleagues and other Missouri politicians had called her in the wake of the announcement. She said Hawley had told her months ago he had no intentions of running but acknowledged her decision to run for re-election to the House now changes the overall equation on the Senate race for everyone.
Including for Hawley, who ran an ad during his successful campaign last year describing himself as not another politician trying to climb a ladder.
Wagner said she would help whomever the party's nominee is, both in fundraising and in setting up a campaign infrastructure, which she had started doing in anticipation of her own run.
Curtman could not be immediately reached for comment Friday. But allies said he had been mulling a run for Wagner’s congressional seat but nixed that idea when Wagner pulled out of the Senate sweepstakes and said she would run for re-election.
"Paul has been building a political network for seven years," said state Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, who is supporting the former U.S. Marine Corps sergeant. "He's a strong conservative."
Curtman, 36, served in the military from 1999 to 2003, participating in operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and the war on terror.
Curtman, a financial advisor, is a Michigan native who graduated from Pacific High School and received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
In the House, he is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Wagner could face a tougher re-election than her three relatively easy victories in Missouri's 2nd District. Like Missouri's Senate race, it could have some national significance.
At least four Democrats have said they are considering a run for Wagner's seat. Two are veterans — one of Iraq, the other of Afghanistan — contributing to a trend of Democrats nationally trying to recruit young military veterans as potential candidates in 2018.
Rachel Irwin, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Friday that Wagner's decision to try to retain her congressional seat does not change national Democrats' intentions to pour money and resources into trying to win the seat.
She said Democrats believe districts like Wagner's, which President Donald Trump won in 2016 but not at the margins he won in more rural Missouri, are "exactly the types of districts we are going to play in next year."
The 2nd District of Missouri is very similar to Georgia's 6th in that in both suburban districts, Trump outperformed his national vote percentage of 46 by 8 percentage points, according to a rating by David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.
In a special election in Georgia 6 last month, Republican Karen Handel won by slightly more than 5 points over Democratic newcomer Jon Ossoff in the most expensive House race in history.