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One of the candidates, Austin Petersen, said Thursday that the other, Tony Monetti, has withdrawn from the agreement.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.