Missouri Republican is first House member to announcement retirement in the new year

Republican Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer became the first member of Congress to announce his retirement in the new year on Thursday, a decision that sets off an open seat race for a Missouri constituency that Donald Trump took 62-36 in 2020.

The candidate filing deadline is March 26, and the winner of the Aug. 6 GOP primary should have no trouble succeeding Luetkemeyer in the 3rd District, which includes the east-central part of the state and the St. Louis exurbs. Many names are sure to surface, though state Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman was the first to react to the news, tweeting, “Of course I’m considering it!!”

The eight-term congressman’s departure won’t impact the battle for the House, but his decision still came as a surprise to local observers. As St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum notes, Luetkemeyer appeared well-positioned to succeed North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry, who unexpectedly announced his own retirement last month, as the top Republican on the powerful House Financial Services Committee.

Luetkemeyer himself has been safe ever since he was first elected to the House in 2008, though he had to make it through an unexpectedly tight general election battle first. The future congressman won a seat in the state House in 1998, an era when Democrats still held the majority they’d initially won in 1954, though just four years later, Republicans took control.

Luetkemeyer, though, didn’t stick around long to enjoy his party’s new and permanent dominance, as he launched a 2004 bid for state treasurer. Though he lost the primary to the eventual winner, Sarah Steelman, 39-24, he landed on his feet in 2006 when Gov. Matt Blunt appointed him the state’s tourism director. He was still serving in that capacity in 2008 when the unpopular Blunt decided not to seek a second term and GOP Rep. Kenny Hulshof launched what would be a disastrous campaign to replace him.

Luetkemeyer was one of several Republicans who campaigned to succeed Hulshof in the now-defunct 9th District, but he and state Rep. Bob Onder soon emerged as the two frontrunners. The radical anti-tax Club for Growth backed Onder and ran ads attacking Luetkemeyer, but the former tourism chief enjoyed the support of the influential Missouri Right to Life. Luetkemeyer won the primary 40-29, and given that George W. Bush had carried the 9th by a wide 59-41 margin, that should have set him up for an easy victory in the general election.

But the Republican nominee struggled against Democratic state Rep. Judy Baker in what turned out to be the second successive terrible election cycle for the GOP. Luetkemeyer, whom the Swing State Project (our predecessor site) described at the time as “a rather bland” candidate, self-funded to replenish his war chest following his expensive primary battle, a move that may have saved him from defeat. John McCain carried the 9th 55-44, but Luetkemeyer only turned back Baker 50-47.

Despite that close call, however, Luetkemeyer quickly became entrenched. His seat was renumbered the 3rd District after Missouri lost a seat following the 2010 census, but that change didn’t harm his electoral prospects. The congressman spent his career as a reliable hardline vote, including joining the majority of his caucus in voting against recognizing Joe Biden’s victory in the hours after the Jan. 6 riot.

Correction: This post misstated George W. Bush’s performance in Missouri’s 9th Congressional District in 2004. He won the district 59-41.

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