When Rep. Paul Curtman said Thursday he was weighing a challenge to Sen. Claire McCaskill, he became the third Republican on the record running to stop the Missouri Democrat from winning a third term.
There's little doubt that Curtman — or fellow GOP hopefuls Tony Monetti and Austin Petersen — are conservative enough to win their party's nomination.
But none of the three Republicans publicly interested in defeating McCaskill have the profile of potential candidates such as Attorney General Josh Hawley, or U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler.
Another possible candidate is Treasurer Eric Schmitt, whose recent speech in St. Louis criticizing Illinois' fiscal policy and decision-making signals interest at running for higher office.
A Republican familiar with Schmitt's plans said the treasurer was in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to meet with leaders in the National Republican Senatorial Committee. And a spokesman for Schmitt noted that "Eric is receiving significant encouragement from Missourians to consider the U.S. Senate race."
McCaskill, knowing that she's considered vulnerable and is likely to face heavy financial opposition from the right, is already campaigning full-steam ahead. She made 10 stops in small mid-Missouri towns last week and raised about $3 million from April to June.
She also recently named David Kirby as her campaign manager. Kirby, an attorney who studied at Washington University in St. Louis, worked on McCaskill's 2006 Senate campaign and also has served as an assistant attorney general in Missouri, according to a news release.
"Claire recognizes that she's the underdog heading into this race, and so we fully expect a long line of politicians to compete for the nomination to run against her," said spokesman John LaBombard, "but she's going to keep her focus on listening and showing respect to Missourians, and fighting for them in the Senate."
The GOP Senate primary has attracted national attention, and another candidate is almost certain to declare his or her interest.
But Thursday, the News-Leader spoke with three Republicans who are definitely running for the GOP nomination, in the order they spoke with the newspaper.
A libertarian walks into a GOP primary
Petersen, a 36-year-old publisher living in Kansas City, said the platform for his Senate run is "100 percent" carried over from his previous presidential campaign as a Libertarian. (He came in second to Gary Johnson.)
"I believe in liberty," Petersen said, defining the word as "the freedom of an individual to act without unnecessary burdens."
Asked about his policy priorities, Petersen rattled off a slew of ideas such as reducing government spending, changing the tax code, cutting federal regulations and repealing the Affordable Care Act.
Petersen said the U.S. should take steps to dig itself out of its debt, which is steadily approaching $20 trillion.
His solution is spending cuts — he suggests 1 percent across the board — and a balanced budget Constitutional amendment "to put us on the path toward fiscal solvency."
Citing Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky as inspiration, Petersen said he wanted to institute a flat tax rate of 15 percent as well as eliminating exemptions and perhaps nixing the payroll tax, which he called a "job-killer."
President Donald Trump's efforts to roll back regulations were on Petersen's mind while on the subject of jobs, and he cautioned against red-tape and business handouts alike.
"Many times, corporations want socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor," he said.
Petersen also criticized Obamacare, which he said has caused his own monthly health insurance payments to jump and called for the health care law's repeal.
"If the Senate has not done so, I will champion a clean repeal of that bill," he said.
From Washington, Missouri, to Washington, D.C.?
Curtman, 36, says his dislike for Obamacare inspired him to challenge the law's constitutionality at a McCaskill town hall eight years ago.
That's the moment he cites as his entry into politics, and he's been serving as a state representative in eastern Missouri since 2010. Curtman chairs the House Republican Caucus, which counts Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Nixa, among its members.
When he's not in Jefferson City, Curtman lives in Washington, Missouri, and works as a financial adviser. Asked to describe himself, he identified as a "Christian, husband, father, (and) U.S. Marine."
But "it's not about me," Curtman said. "It's about making Claire McCaskill a private citizen."
A full repeal of Obamacare is a top priority Curtman, who said that government should protect consumer's choices. He cited the Affordable Care Act's insurance mandate as the opposite of that and said a repeal would "unleash" insurance companies, drive up competition and decrease costs.
"Obamacare doesn't do anything for the consumer except force them to buy a new product," he said.
Curtman also said it was important to drive down debt and reduce American's unfunded liabilities, which he and Peterson both cited as topping $100 trillion.
"We need to rein all that in," Curtman said.
The four-term state lawmaker also said bureaucracy needed to be scaled back and that he wanted to replace the current graduated income tax system, perhaps with a flat tax.
"We need more people who are willing to fight for fiscal sanity," Curtman said.
An outsider who served in the military with experience as a motivational speaker, a few books under his belt and a distaste for "career politicians" is running for federal office in Missouri for the first time.
No, not Gov. Eric Greitens. It's Tony Monetti of Warrensburg, the first Republican to declare his candidacy.
Monetti, who readily admits he was inspired to run after watching Greitens and Trump win their races, is campaigning on his "conservative outsider" status as well as his history as B-2 stealth bomber pilot and small businessman.
"The timing might be right for our country to look for leaders rather than these career politicians," he said.
Monetti introduced himself as the 52-year-old son of Italian immigrants ("legal immigrants," he stressed) who loves his country. He served as an officer and pilot in the U.S. Air Force, flying combat missions in Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf and Operation Allied Force in the Balkans.
Outside the cockpit, Monetti worked with NATO to coordinate time-sensitive joint operations among numerous different armed forces.
Back stateside, he ran a restaurant for several years before returning to the Air Force to become director of operations for the B-2 program at Whiteman Air Force Base. After three years there, he took a position with the University of Central Missouri, where he said he has worked to right a struggling aviation program for five years.
"I surround myself with winners and bring people together to find common ground," he said. "I'm just blessed with a wonderful team."
If elected, he said he'll work to "bring Missouri values to D.C." One way he says he'll do that is by campaigning to reduce how long federal lawmakers can serve.
"I will only serve two terms, and I will fight for term limits," Monetti said.
Describing his watchword as "altruism," Monetti also said he was "passionate about creating free-market solutions for mental health." He noted that his wife is a mental health counselor and said more needs to be done to help people whose lives are in disarray due to drug addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Rather than throwing them in jail and not helping them, we need to promote the general welfare," Monetti said.
On the whole, his philosophy sounds akin to that of many conservatives: "Less government. Less tax. Strong defense."
Monetti said he wanted to focus on empowering people to work together to solve problems and get government out of their lives, and he said he wanted to deliver a message to members of the Republican establishment who might prefer a more recognizable candidate: "There's a B-2 stealth pilot that's about to be seen on radar."