Powerful conservative interests are backing an expensive campaign to oust Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey in next year’s Republican primary, including Leonard Leo, the influential activist who has spent decades pushing the nation’s courts to the right, and the radical anti-tax Club for Growth.
The effort seeks to install a Leo protege, former federal prosecutor Will Scharf, in Bailey’s stead, despite the hardline record he’s amassed in the six months since Gov. Mike Parson appointed him to succeed now-Sen. Eric Schmitt. Scharf, however, is arguing that his opponent “very much represents the establishment insider clique in” the state capitol.
Whoever wins will likely emerge as one of the most prominent politicians in a deep red state where several of the most recent attorneys general have gone on to serve as senators or governors. Indeed, while Republican Josh Hawley famously ran ads during his successful 2016 campaign decrying “career politicians just climbing the ladder, using one office to get another,” he did just that two years later when he unseated Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. Parson went on to appoint Schmitt to fill the vacancy Hawley’s departure created, but Schmitt himself didn’t remain in the post long thanks to his successful Senate bid last year, which required the governor to once again pick a new top lawyer for the state.
The man Parson opted for most recently was Bailey, who had served as his general counsel but had never held elected office before. Bailey, who used his inaugural address to pledge that his office would seek the “unyielding pursuit of victory,” months later issued an order essentially banning gender-affirming care for anyone in the state. Even some fellow Republicans argued the attorney general had gone too far by prohibiting treatment for adults, including Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who is the GOP frontrunner to succeed Parson. Bailey rescinded his order in May just before the governor signed a bill outlawing such care for minors.
The attorney general has also been working to delay pro-choice groups from collecting the signatures they’d need to place a proposed abortions rights amendment on next year’s ballot, an effort that includes his preposterous claim that its passage would cost the state “as much as $51 billion dollars.” In addition, Bailey has been trying to overturn the conviction of a Kansas City police officer who was sentenced to six years in prison for killing a Black man, a move The Kansas City Star described as “unheard of in Missouri.” The Republican attracted headlines as well by trying to oust St. Louis’ top prosecutor, Democrat Kim Gardner, for allegedly failing to do her job; Gardner ultimately resigned in May.
Scharf, by contrast, has so far framed his attacks on Bailey around the incumbent’s connections in state government rather than his ideology. “There are a lot of stones that the Jefferson City establishment would rather remain unturned,” he told Jewish Insider in February, “I would see my job as attorney general as diligently flipping those stones.” But while Scharf is also a first-time candidate, he’s by no means a political neophyte: The challenger served as policy director to then-Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned in disgrace in 2018 and went on to lose last year’s Senate primary to Schmitt.
Scharf’s national ties should prove far more useful to him, though. In 2018, Scharf worked as a consultant to Leo’s organization, then known as the Judicial Crisis Network, during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation, and he later assisted Amy Coney Barrett in getting confirmed to the court from his post in Trump’s Justice Department.
Scharf told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch earlier this year that Leo is “a dear friend and mentor,” though Leo’s specific interest in Scharf is unclear, since Leo has generally been interested in extending his influence through the judiciary. Most notoriously, he made headlines last month when the Washington Post reported that he’d secretly directed tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees to Clarence Thomas’ wife, Ginni Thomas.
The move from the courthouse to the attorney general’s office isn’t a very long one, however, so it’s not hard to imagine why Leo would be interested in cultivating elected officials. And he very much seems to value his mentee: His dark money group, now called the Concord Fund, so far is responsible for nearly all of the $575,000 that a pro-Scharf PAC called Defend Missouri has raised.
That PAC, reports the Missouri Independent’s Jason Hancock, recently transferred most of its budget to one affiliated with the Club for Growth. The Club, which has a long history of spending heavily in primaries, endorsed Scharf in April by touting him as “a constitutional conservative who has worked to advance free market policies.” (The statement did not mention Bailey.) And it’s possible that Scharf’s past with Greitens is actually a plus for the Club: Hancock notes that its largest donor, Richard Uihlein, is a longtime Greitens ally who bankrolled a super PAC to aid the ex-governor’s failed Senate bid.
Author: Jeff Singer