By Moira Warburton and Alexandra Ulmer
(Reuters) -Former President Donald Trump had promised to weigh in on the Republican nomination for the Missouri Senate race, hotly contested between Eric Greitens, former state governor, and Eric Schmitt, the State Attorney General.
On Monday, the eve of the primary, Trump stunned political watchers by issuing a highly unusual statement simply endorsing “Eric,” suggesting he was hedging his bets between the two candidates.
“We need a person who will not back down to the Radical Left Lunatics who are destroying our Country,” Trump said in the statement. “I trust the Great People of Missouri, on this one, to make up their own minds…. I am therefore proud to announce that ERIC has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”
Asked for clarification on whom Trump was endorsing, spokesperson Taylor Budowich said the statement “speaks for itself.”
A Missouri Republican political operative told Reuters it was “clearly a dual endorsement.”
Both Greitens and Schmitt, however, claimed Trump’s endorsement in Tweets sent just minutes apart.
“I’m honored to receive President Trump’s endorsement,” Greitens said first, adding criticism of his rival: “President Trump said it best when he characterized Schmitt’s campaign as ‘great dishonesty in politics.'”
Some 11 minutes later, Schmitt posted that he was “grateful” for Trump’s endorsement. “I’ll take that fight to the Senate to SAVE AMERICA!” he added, parroting Trump’s slogan.
Trump, who has become a kingmaker in the Republican Party during primaries for the November midterm elections, has endorsed some 200 candidates in 2022, with mixed results in states including Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
But Trump, who is weighing another White House run in 2024, regularly claims his endorsements are hugely successful, raising the questions of whether he was trying to protect his record through the dual endorsement in the closely fought race.
“Trump’s really worried about taking a loss on this one,” the Republican Accountability Project, a conservative anti-Trump group, said on Twitter.
To be sure, there is one candidate Trump definitely did not endorse: Representative Vicky Hartzler, who is also running for the Republican nomination for Senate in Tuesday’s primary.
(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Washington and Alexandra Ulmer in San Francisco; Editing by Bradley Perrett)
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