By Jim Ellis
May 1, 2017 — Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) stands for a third term, and could arguably be the Republicans’ top national conversion target. The senator obviously had a successful first re-election run in 2012 despite Mitt Romney carrying Missouri, a race that was made easier after actively worked to influence Republicans to nominate then-Rep. Todd Akin, a man she was confident of defeating.Even with a calamitous succeeding Republican campaign, the combined GOP and minor party opposition to McCaskill still netted over 45 percent of the vote. Therefore, adding the more defined Missouri Republican vote trend present since 2012, it is reasonable to project that the eventual GOP nominee likely starts a campaign against McCaskill with a base in the 47-48 percent range.
For a long while, the Missouri electorate proved a reliable bellwether in presidential elections. For 76 years, covering 19 elections (dating back to Franklin Roosevelt’s first election in 1932), Show Me State voters had sided with the winning presidential candidate in every election but one. In 1956, the state went to Adlai Stevenson in the Eisenhower re-election year.
But the streak ended in 2008, when Missouri bucked the trend and chose John McCain over Barack Obama by a razor-thin margin. That fledgling pattern cemented itself in 2012 when Missouri gave Mitt Romney almost a 10-point win even when he was losing by four points nationally. President Trump then blew the doors off this past November, expanding upon the Romney percentage and defeating Hillary Clinton by almost 19 percentage points.
Perhaps more indicative of the present electorate as a forecaster for 2018, are last November’s downballot statewide results. Down almost all year in the polls, former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens scored the upset of the year in the nations governors’ races. Coming from behind, Greitens defeated favored Attorney General Chris Koster, a Republican-turned-Democrat, by a 51-46 percent margin. Simultaneously, Sen. Roy Blunt (R), under extreme attack from the national Democrats’ to support their favorite candidate, Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, still scored a three point victory, 49-46 percent.
Currently, the Republican Senate primary is focusing on two potential candidates, Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Ballwin) and Attorney General Josh Hawley. It is now clear that no other Republican House member is looking to enter the Senate campaign. Repeatedly, the attorney general is saying his plans are do the job the people just elected him to do, though he has yet to make an official statement about any potential 2018 political plans.
Recently, former Sen. John Danforth (R) and ex-Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder (R) circulated an open letter to Hawley encouraging him to run for the Senate. According to Missouri sources, this document could actually be playing to Rep. Wagner’s benefit in that other potential GOP candidates seem to be frozen in place while waiting to see what Hawley may ultimately do. But, Wagner is pressing forward, particularly on the fundraising front.
In the end, it is probable that Hawley doesn’t run. With Rep. Wagner expected to announce her Senate candidacy in the next couple of months, she may be so far down the campaign road that any other GOP aspirant will be too far behind to catch her once Hawley makes his intentions clear.
Rep. Wagner, a strong fundraiser, is serving her third term in the House and a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee. She has access to resources, name identification in one of two dominant Missouri media markets, and would be a very formidable general election candidate.
Looking at the first quarter 2017 Federal Election Commission fundraising reports, Rep. Wagner obtained $804,264 with a cash-on-hand figure of $2,767,789, a clear signal that she is looking statewide because this amount is far more than needed for a re-election campaign in a safe House district.
Wagner’s money also compares favorably with Sen. McCaskill’s financial efforts. While the senator had a big first quarter in raising over $2.8 million, her campaign account stands relatively equivalent with Rep. Wagner’s at $3,054,997.
The Missouri Senate race would begin with a toss-up rating, and will likely be even more hotly contested than last-year’s Blunt-Kander campaign in what will be a much different political climate yet still featuring top political candidates.