JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Eric Greitens introduced himself to Missouri voters earlier this year with an attention-grabbing TV ad in which he fires a military-style assault rifle into a seemingly empty field, causing a fiery explosion of a gasoline bomb. He pledged in the ad to "take aim at politics as usual."
On Tuesday night, when he beat a crowded field for the Republican nomination for governor, he again touted his aim to "clean up Jefferson City" by banning gifts from lobbyists, closing the revolving door between legislators and lobbyists and backing term limits for all statewide elected offices.
Greitens already has a resume that's remarkable: Navy SEAL officer, Rhodes scholar, White House fellow, boxer and martial arts expert, humanitarian to homeless children and war refugees, best-selling author and founder of a nonprofit that helps that military veterans find jobs.
Greitens, making his political debut as a self-described conservative outsider, won a hard-fought, four-way Republican primary Tuesday for the right to take on Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster in the Nov. 8 general election.
He prevailed with about 35 percent of the vote over another self-described outsider, businessman John Brunner, and a pair of more experienced Republican leaders — longtime Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and former Missouri House Speaker and U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway.
Koster, a former Republican state senator, easily won the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
Both candidates quickly turned their sights on each other.
Koster, 51, kicked off a multi-day bus tour Wednesday in Harrisonville, where he began his political career as elected prosecutor two decades ago. At a rally at the Cass County Courthouse, he told supporters that this year's election is a "gut check moment" for Missouri — a state he said can be fiscally conservative and socially tolerant.
Koster, who described himself at his victory party as a "conservative Democrat," criticized Greitens, saying his only political philosophies seem to be "blowing up state government" without specifics about how to reform it.
Greitens declared to cheering supporters at his Chesterfield victory party: "Together, we are leading a conservative revolution to take our state back." He called Koster "the poster child for career politicians."
The Missouri governor's office will be open because two-term incumbent Jay Nixon, a Democrat, has served the maximum amount allowed under state law.
Greitens, 42, of St. Louis, traveled on humanitarian missions around the world — documenting the lives of street children in Bolivia and refugees from genocidal wars in Bosnia, Rwanda and Zaire — before joining the Navy in 2001, just months before the Sept. 11 attacks. While deployed in Iraq, he was chlorine-gassed in a suicide bomb attack but returned to duty within days. He later served as a White House fellow under President George W. Bush and founded the nonprofit group The Mission Continues, which connects veterans with volunteer work to ease the post-military transition. He's also written three books, including the bestselling memoir "The Heart and the Fist."
Koster took a subtle jab at Greitens on Tuesday, denouncing a "disturbing political campaign" season that has featured "candidates shooting machine guns and doing sit-ups for the cameras." Koster pledged "careful, thoughtful leadership" that includes more funding for public schools, roads and health care.
As a fundraising gimmick, Greitens' campaign has sold stickers described as "ISIS hunting permits," including ones signed by the former Navy SEAL who claims he killed Osama bin Laden. But he also raked in high-dollar donations from around the country, including $1 million from Michael Goguen, a California venture capitalist accused of sexual abuse in a pending civil lawsuit. Goguen has denied the allegations.
Greitens' Republican rivals called on him to return the money, but Greitens said he won't rush to judgment as the case is pending. In the final days before the election, a Democratic affiliated political group also launched an ad attacking Greitens for keeping the money.
His Republican opponents also questioned whether Greitens truly is conservative. He attended the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008 for then presidential-nominee Barack Obama's speech. And Greitens once was courted by Democrats as a potential candidate.
Associated Press writers Bill Draper in Kansas City and Margaret Stafford in Harrisonville contributed to this report. Ballentine reported from Chesterfield.
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