KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Rappelling into a bull-riding rodeo event, crawling through dirt in a SWAT obstacle course and entering a burning building with firefighters.
These could be action movie stunts by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Hollywood star turned California Governor.
But they were all done by another governor earning a reputation for public displays of physical prowess – Eric Greitens of Missouri.
The 43-year-old Greitens – the nation’s second-youngest state executive – revels in the attention, posting videos of his action adventures on Facebook and even using them to help stay fit while keeping a demanding schedule.
In one feat of strength, Greitens visited an indoor rock climbing business and easily scaled two walls as media cameras rolled. Greitens was at the veteran-owned business to announce an initiative to eliminate all start-up business fees for veterans in Missouri. Other exploits include leading runs with military members, climbing 110 flights of stairs in memory of 9/11, and riding in a Missouri Highway Patrol car through a high-speed obstacle course.
In a bet with Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, Greitens in a Facebook video posted Saturday pledged to do 10 push-ups for every point scored by the Army if the Navy lost, which it did 14-13. That added 140 push-ups to the governor’s to-do list.
“Look, this is fun. It’s a good time,” Greitens said after scaling the climbing wall. “And I think it’s important that people know we are fighting every day for the people of Missouri.”
A novice to politics, Greitens has experience in real fights. He was a boxer in college and has a black belt in Taekwondo. A former Navy SEAL officer, he was once chlorine-gassed in a suicide bomb attack in Iraq. He returned to service three days later.
Greitens was elected in 2016 with no prior experience in public office. He typically wakes up between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. to run on local trails or do strength training at the Missouri State Highway Patrol gym, spokesman Parker Briden said. Shooting the photos and videos of the governor does not require a fulltime staffer and there is no cost to the state of Missouri, Briden said.
He’s not the first elected official to earn a reputation for fitness. House Speaker Paul Ryan is a fan of high-intensity P90X workouts. And seven-time Mr. Olympia – Schwarzenegger -went every year to a bodybuilding competition. He called lawmakers “girlie men” when they didn’t go along with his political agenda.
But Missouri State University communications expert Elizabeth Dudash-Buskirk said Greitens’ use of social media to highlight his physical exploits is “unprecedented.”
“He wants to be that picture that you think of when you think of a strong government, when you think of a strong military (and) when you think of a strong police force,” she said.
Dudash-Buskirk said Greitens’ self-branding as a veteran might also signal higher political aspirations from a governor who has long been pegged as highly ambitious. The Republican reserved the web address ericgreitensforpresident.com years ago.
The governor has gotten generally good reviews on Facebook for the stunts. In response to a video of Greitens rappelling into the bull-riding event, one user commented that “Missouri now officially has the coolest governor.”
Springfield resident Conor Bruner, who voted for Greitens, said the videos show Greitens “being a man.”
“They’re all pencil pushers,” said Bruner, referring to other elected officials. “He sort of changed the game.”
There are skeptics, too. Sharon Swon of Mexico, Missouri, asked why Greitens keeps trying to prove how “macho” he is.
“So he can do pushups,” Swon said. “I’m not impressed.”
Summer Ballentine reported from Jefferson City, and Margaret Stafford reported from Kansas City. Associated Press writer Juliet Williams also contributed to this report from San Francisco.