By Jim Ellis
Oct. 12, 2017 — Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) officially announced his long-awaited challenge to Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) on Tuesday this week. The move had been expected since even before he formed a senatorial exploratory committee at the beginning of August. Hawley then found himself encouraged to run for the Senate literally from the first few days after his election as the state’s AG in November.
Saying Sen. McCaskill has turned her back on many key Show Me State constituencies and industries, that she has been in Washington “forever”, and simply “doesn’t represent Missouri” anymore, Hawley declared his new US Senate candidacy via campaign video featuring he, his wife, and two young sons (above).
Already, a McCaskill-Hawley general election race is being viewed as the Republicans’ top conversion opportunity. Though Hawley must get past several lesser GOP primary candidates, including state Rep. Paul Curtman (R-Pacific/Franklin County), he is the prohibitive favorite to become the party nominee next August.
The McCaskill Campaign and the national Democratic political apparatus has been readying a defense plan against a Hawley offensive for several months. In his campaign for attorney general, Hawley used ladders as props in his ads to symbolize politicians who win one office and then immediately turnaround and jump to another. Now, doing exactly what he campaigned against, we can expect a steady barrage of attacks over what McCaskill and the Democrats will claim is Hawley’s “hypocrisy.”
In the announcement video, Hawley lays out his attacks against Sen. McCaskill, and he will clearly run a contrast campaign to define the incumbent as a Washington office holder awash in the DC political swamp waters who long ago forgot about the people who elected her, while describing himself as a man with conservative Missouri values who is firmly in tune with the average citizen.
Sen. McCaskill will surely counter by portraying Hawley as a political opportunist supported by the extreme right wing of the American political spectrum. Should former White House advisor Steve Bannon’s loosely affiliated organizations chime in to support Hawley (and the attorney general admits the two have talked) along with the Club for Growth (who is already working to raise funds for an independent Hawley support operation), Sen. McCaskill will have the figurative ammunition she needs to attempt to cast Hawley as being outside the political mainstream while she simultaneously attempts to expand her base into the political center.
As we remember, Sen. McCaskill ran a skilled re-election campaign in 2012, complete with helping to shape the Republican primary to nominate the candidate she wanted to oppose, then-Rep. Todd Akin (R-St. Louis County). Akin would fall into McCaskill’s political trap, making ill-advised and catastrophic statements that cost him any chance of running a competitive race. Against the polished and refined young attorney general, however, Sen. McCaskill may be conversely drawing the top GOP senatorial candidate in the country next year – at least many leading Republicans think so — rather than the least capable as was the case in 2012.
Additionally, Missouri is clearly moving to the right as evidenced in the elections since 2012, in particular. Over a long period in US political history, the Show Me State was a political bellwether whose electorate almost always supported the winning presidential candidate.
From the period between 1932 and 2004, only in 1956 did Missouri voters not side with the winning candidate. The state’s electorate bucked the winning trend in 2008 when John McCain nipped then-Sen. Barack Obama by just under 4,000 votes statewide. In 2012, Mitt Romney expanded the Missouri Republican margin to 54-44 percent, and President Trump notched an even stronger 57-38 percent spread in November.
Since 2012, Republicans have re-elected Sen. Roy Blunt (R), converted the governor’s mansion, and claimed four of five state constitutional officer positions, while brandishing veto-proof majorities in both houses of the state legislature. Therefore, against a top opponent, and facing an electorate moving away from her political ideology, Sen. McCaskill will clearly face the toughest challenge of her long political career.