Determined not to let her outfox them again, GOP heavyweights this election plucked the 38-year-old, Ivy-league educated Hawley and cleared the field for him.
Unlike Akin, Hawley was less prone to political gaffes. He threw his support behind Trump’s policies, while avoiding using or reacting to the president’s incendiary rhetoric.
With polls showing McCaskill and Hawley neck-and-neck, Republicans badly need a win in Missouri will expand their 51-49 margin in the Senate.
Hawley was the only statewide candidate in Missouri to receive more votes than Trump in 2016, when he won his bid for attorney general. He pledged during that campaign not to climb political ladders, then dived into the Senate race within months of taking office.
He relentlessly attacked McCaskill as too liberal to represent a state that Trump won by nearly 19 percentage points in 2016.
“She’s a liberal Democrat. She just does not vote with this state,” Hawley wrote in a recent Facebook post.
Missouri was once considered a bellwether state, but Republicans now control the state Legislature and almost every statewide seat. McCaskill’s is one of the lone two statewide offices held by Democrats.
Seeking a third term, the 65-year-old McCaskill presented herself as a moderate during more than 50 town halls held in Republican strongholds, noting that she voted with Trump nearly half the time in the Senate. She pitched herself as willing to work across the aisle when it helps Missouri but also willing to stand against Trump’s policies when they hurt the state.
“He is Trump’s guy, and I am not anybody except Missouri’s guy, or gal I guess,” McCaskill said to applause during a Monday campaign stop in Columbia.
McCaskill also focused her campaign on an issue that plays well for Democrats: insurance protections required under former President Barack Obama’s health care law for people with pre-existing medical conditions. She repeatedly criticized Hawley for joining Missouri with 19 other states in a lawsuit seeking to have the law declared unconstitutional, which would leave those protections in limbo. Hawley countered by running an ad featuring his two young sons, one of whom has a chronic disease, to stress his commitment to such coverage.
Hawley dismissed McCaskill’s claim to be a moderate, hammering her on Senate votes against both of Trump’s Supreme Court picks, his federal tax overhaul and other priorities.
He launched an ad criticizing the Democrats’ handling of sexual misconduct allegations against Trump’s Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh, making the Missouri race a barometer of the “Kavanaugh effect”— whether GOP voters would be more likely to vote after the attacks on the justice.
Trump traveled to Missouri several times to campaign for Hawley, including twice in the last week before Election Day.
McCaskill was dogged by longstanding Republican attacks against her use of a private plane during parts of a tour her campaign as an RV tour. Republicans also criticized her wealth, which is mostly from her husband, and criticized him for federal subsidies he received for low-income housing projects.
Democrats accused Hawley of going easy as attorney general on former Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, who faced multiple political and personal scandals after media reported details about Greitens’ extramarital affair in 2015 and his use of a charity donor list for his gubernatorial campaign.
That criticism of Hawley faded after Greitens stepped down in June.