Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-MO) luck has finally run out.
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) has defeated the two-term senator, ending her four-decade political career and flipping another key Senate seat to his party after an expensive and arduous campaign.
Hawley led McCaskill 53 percent to 44 percent percent with 85 percent of precincts reporting. Multiple networks have called the race.
Hawley was the first big GOP recruit for the 2018 Senate campaign, and national strategists crowed about his skills and profile early on. He turned into a punching bag later as McCaskill ran circles around him in fundraising (she eventually hauled in $35 million to his $10 million for the race). The truth was always likely somewhere in the middle: He proved a capable if less-than-stellar candidate who managed to send a household name packing in a state that President Trump won by 19 points just two years earlier.
Hawley leaned hard into an embrace of the President throughout the campaign, flaying McCaskill for routinely voting with her party, including her votes against both of President Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, as well as the GOP tax overhaul and Republicans’ efforts to repeal Obamacare.
Hawley had a ton of help making that argument: Trump repeatedly campaigned in the state to boost his efforts.
McCaskill responded by attacking him as a political social climber, accusing him of using his official office for political gain. That message was aided by his slow response to the sex and blackmail scandal that engulfed former Gov. Eric Greitens (R), and late-breaking stories looking at the influence his campaign consultants had in Greitens’ attorney general’s office.
She also blasted away at Hawley for joining a lawsuit aimed at overturning Obamacare that would eliminate the law’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions. He responded with an ad claiming, without much evidence, that he supported preexisting conditions protections.
McCaskill’s high name recognition, strong fundraising capabilities, a national mood that seemed favorable to Democrats, and Hawley’s own flaws were enough to keep her in the race for the entirety of the campaign. But the state has turned hard right in the last decade, swinging from one President Obama barely lost in 2008 to one Trump won by 19 points just eight years later. And unlike other red-state Democrats, McCaskill did little in Trump era to break with her party on key votes, limiting her ability to appeal to right-leaning voters.
She’d narrowly led in public and private polls for much of the race, but the fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation helped galvanize Republicans and hurt her with some conservative-leaning swing voters. McCaskill closed the campaign running hard to the center, embracing some of Trump’s immigration views and airing ads saying she wasn’t one of those “crazy Democrats.” But it wasn’t enough.
Hawley’s victory comes six years after Republicans blew an opportunity to defeat McCaskill by nominating Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), whose “legitimate rape” comments torpedoed his campaign. McCaskill won her first Senate race in 2006 by a razor-thin margin.
Hawley’s win indicates the state may be out of most Democrats’ reach for now, part of an ongoing political realignment that’s moved many populist, blue-collar states out of reach for Democrats.
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