Finding an Eric Greitens supporter in Missouri’s Warren

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WARREN COUNTY — As two men leveled their guns on distant targets, blasting away at Reifsnider State Forest Shooting Range, brass shell casings fell on the sunbaked dirt where David Reid was hard at work.

These guys, and firearms enthusiasts before them, left plenty to pick up and salvage.

“It all adds up for sure,” said Reid, 31, a single father of three children, hoping to get about $2.50 a pound. “I am trying to do everything to make it work.”

His camouflage boonie hat didn’t provide much shade. Sweat dripped off his stout body. He said he’s always been strong. He started working at his father’s tree service at a young age, which helped him be a fierce competitor on the Warrenton High School wrestling team.

He still works for his father, including some jobs climbing trees inside Innsbrook, the nearby resort community, but on this day, he foraged.

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“My thing in life, I try to recycle things that other people find no value in,” he said.

Reid and others interviewed this week in Warren County hadn’t been following the U.S. Senate race in Missouri.

Maybe in his work, he’d run into Eric Greitens, one of the leading Republican candidates, at the shooting range. Or perhaps been near him at Innsbrook, where Greitens has a house. Reid had never heard of him.

A reporter told him the general storyline. Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, Navy SEAL, governor who shook things up in Jefferson City and resigned amid scandal. Now running for Senate in a campaign that bashes Democrats and do-nothing Republicans.

“He sounds like he’s a fighter, people giving him a bad rap, but he still stays in,” said Reid, pausing for minute to think. “You can be a fighter. You also have to know when to sit down.”

He had follow-up questions.

“What does he plan on changing? If he’s saying they aren’t meeting the needs of the people, what does he plan on doing to make a positive impact?”

Greitens has told supporters that his first priority is to fire Mitch McConnell, the veteran Republican Senate leader from Kentucky. He’s said that he might try to launch an investigation into the 2020 election. Other than that, his main platform is “America first.”

Greitens regularly lambasts mainstream media, says it’s part of the problem with this country. He has refused to be interviewed at length by the Post-Dispatch. At a campaign stop in Arnold, he took three questions in front of his supporters, ultimately telling a reporter: “No cross-examination.”

For the first time Wednesday, Greitens gave sworn testimony in an ongoing child custody case with his second ex-wife, Sheena. The hearing was closed to the public. It’s unclear if it will ever be publicized.

Asked what assurances Greitens could give that his personal matters — murkiness from an extramarital affair with a Central West End hairdresser and the ongoing child custody dispute — won’t disrupt his responsibilities to the public should he be elected, his campaign spokesman, Dylan Johnson, didn’t respond.

Asked for Greitens’ primary address, to say where the potential U.S. senator lives, he also didn’t respond.

Records show that Greitens is registered to vote here in Warren County. Personal property records list a 2016 Ford Explorer, 2015 F-150 and 1998 Ford Ranger. A limited liability company is listed as the owner of the lakeside home at Innsbrook purchased in early 2017 when Greitens was governor.

The Innsbrook home seems symbolic of the Greitens campaign, and perhaps how he would govern if elected to the Senate. Always with his guard up. Entry and exit points are well controlled to get to the homes, weekend chalets, golf course, stables and lakes.

Innsbrook guard shack

Entrants to Innsbrook check in at the guard shack on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. 

But along the edge of the community, there’s a new market that sells Starbucks coffee and “feisty feta flatbread” sandwiches that’s accessible by both Innsbrook residents on one side, the public on the other. Several people interviewed there Wednesday, the day Greitens was in court for seven hours, didn’t know him or expressed surprise that he stays or lives there.

“It’s not a gated community for exclusion, it’s a gated community for security,” said Leslie Moore, 48, of Austin, Texas, who spends a month a year at Innsbrook in a home that’s been in her family for decades. “I love the trees and being in nature.”

Some who did know him, didn’t want to be named. They come to Innsbrook to chill out, or to have family reunions. Not to stir the political pot with hemmed-in neighbors.

James Glen, 74, a retired businessman from Clarkson Valley, was an exception.

“He’s rather arrogant to run again,” he said. “Even if he’s not guilty, there’s enough smoke there. We don’t need somebody with that baggage. It’s embarrassing. It’s getting national press. We need strong people. Not ‘hooray Trump,’ but strong people.”

Glen, who is conservative, was ticked off that former Republican U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth was helping field an independent candidate, John Wood. Glen said it could split the Republican vote in Missouri.

“In or out, we are a two-party system,” he said.

Greitens for U.S. Senate

A sign near the entrance to Innsbrook, a gated resort community in Warren County where Eric Greitens stays.  

No one interviewed at the market over a four-hour period spoke in support of Greitens as a Senate candidate. Brennen Lawson, of Edwardsville, came the closest. He’d read one of the Greitens memoirs, “The Heart and the Fist,” two or three times.

“He wanted to roll up his sleeves and help,” said Lawson, 36, a software installation manager. “To do that, he had to serve. He joined the SEALS.”

Lawson was impressed by how much Greitens accomplished by the time he was in his 30s. He’d lost track of the Greitens trail when he went into politics.

Lawson and his wife, Katie, were at Innsbrook celebrating their 12th anniversary at a family place. Katie, a graphic designer, said she’d also recently stayed there with a group of friends who are public school teachers in Missouri. She said their collective reaction when they saw a large Greitens sign across from the main entrance was: “What a scumbag.”

“They won’t be voting for him, I know that,” Katie said. “But I don’t think that would make them not want to come here.”

‘The economy really sucks right now’

Warren County records say Greitens has a post office box in Warrenton, the county seat. To get there from Innsbrook, he’d pass the Dollar Tree at 702 East Main Street.

Not many people in the parking lot there knew of Greitens, but Mark Dierker, shared some of the same enthusiasms. He had two handguns, one on each hip.

“In case one misfires, I’ve got the other one,” said Dierker, 67. “That’s the way I look at it.”

He came to Dollar Tree because he could get two bags of ice for the price of one at other stores. Dierker said he’d worked 22 years at a pallet company until his back went out. He wasn’t following the Senate race, didn’t plan on voting. Still, he wants lower taxes, reduced food and gas prices. His rent increased at the first of the year from $950 to $1,100.

“Everything is high,” he said. “I hate to go to the store, but I’ve got to eat.”

Kay Holston pulled up in a car she said she bought off a generous friend for $100. A young woman in the passenger seat, whom she was taking shopping, had a black eye. Holston wasn’t following the Senate race, didn’t know who Greitens was. But she’d like whoever wins to be a good advocate.

“At least have a voice for the little people,” said Holston, 56. “The economy really sucks right now. They keep saying there are jobs out there. I’ve been looking for six months. They’ll hire you. It’s only eight to 12 hours a week. Who can live off that?”

Asked about jobs at Dollar Tree, the manager said entry-level workers start out at minimum wage, part time. Managerial positions are full time. A job applicant sign-up sheet right inside the front doorway had 19 names on it.

Leela Sutton, 21, was the first out of six people a reporter called from the list who answered the phone.

“I’ve been going through a lot the past two weeks,” she said.

She said she hadn’t been following the Senate race, but still needs a job. She said she applied at Dollar Tree in person about a month ago, and was encouraged to apply online. She said she submitted two applications.

“I never got a call back about an interview or nothing,” she said.

Sutton, who said she dropped out of high school because she was bullied, needed money to help her mother, who has breathing issues, and her grandmother, who has diabetes. Her fiancé is in Alaska, serving in the military.

Hillary Barton, 30, said Dollar Tree never called or emailed her back either.

“I’ve been homeless the past month or almost two months,” she said. “I just got a job two days ago.”

She’s disassembling vehicles at a Troy salvage yard for $14 an hour. After 60 days, she’s supposed to get a raise. Still homeless, she said, she slept outside the night before, on a tarp and yoga mat.

“I haven’t got my first check, so I haven’t found a way to provide for my first place to stay yet,” she said.

She said she’s been trying to be a diesel mechanic for the last year and a half. She said she’s pursuing a CDL to drive trucks. She said she knows how to use a welder.

She wasn’t into politics, wasn’t sure what senators do.

“I don’t have a TV,” she said. “I’ve barely got a phone going right now.”

A vote for Greitens

During two days of visiting with the general masses in Warren County, a reporter found one guaranteed vote for Greitens. And it took some prodding.

New Image Barber Shop

Don Narzinski, seated, talks politics at New Image Barber Shop in Warrenton on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, as owner Gary Bennett quietly listens. 

The vote turned up at New Image Barber Shop, despite a bedrock principle that has helped owner Gary Bennett stay in business since 1987.

“I don’t talk about politics in the barber shop,” he said.

But there among his clientele, a strong voice raised.

“Gary don’t like politics in here, but you couldn’t pay me to vote for a Democrat right now,” said Don Narzinski, 63. “They need more than a new image. They don’t have a clue to what they are doing.”

He said so much focus on transgender issues has young children questioning their sexuality too much. The same with “gay stuff” that’s “against God’s will” and all the race wars that has everyone fired up.

“If you want to stop racism,” he said, “stop talking about it.”

Narzinski, owner of metal stamping and tool and die companies, wasn’t sure who he was going to vote for in the Senate race. With a few more details, he soon recalled the former governor in the lineup — Greitens.

“He got railroaded out,” he said. “Oh, yeah. I’ll vote for him.”

Updated at 4:10 p.m. Friday, July 22.

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