Sunday, September 02, 2018

Missouri U.S. Senate- Race of the Day

65 Days Until Election Day

Missouri U.S. Senate

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2016 Presidential Result: Red State (Midwest)

Outlook: Tossup (R)

It seems as if a hallmark of many election cycles this century has been an extremely competitive Senate race in the Show Me State. This year, the tradition will continue. A Democrat incumbent, who managed to craftily survive six years ago, due to taking a political risk which would pay off, now has an even larger challenge, as the state continues to move further to the right. Nonetheless, it would be a huge mistake to count out Claire McCaskill.

Hailing from small-town Missouri, McCaskill has been around politics for decades. In 1982, she was elected to the State House and has not lost a race since, with one exception. That was in 2004, when she narrowly lost as her party's Gubernatorial nominee. Earlier that year, after having twice been elected as State Auditor, she defeated the incumbent Governor in the Democrat primary. Such a thing had never occurred in Missouri before.

Soon after her loss though, she set her sights on a U.S. Senate seat, and with much attention on her race, she knocked off a Republican incumbent, who had been elected via special election four years earlier. In Washington, her overall voting record put her around the middle of the Senate ideologically, but there was never any doubt she was a partisan Democrat. Her outspokenness and loyalty to the party had her considered as a Vice Presidential possibility in 2012. She also faced a good deal of criticism over taxpayer subsidies of a private airplane she owned. The Senator was forced to reimburse the government and claimed she would make her husband "sell the damn plane."

As 2012 approached, McCaskill was considered highly vulnerable and three main Republican candidates competed to oppose her. She determined that she stood a much better chance against one of them then the other two, and her campaign ran primary ads, while seeming to criticize Congressman Todd Akin on the surface, but actually serving to bolster his hopes in the GOP primary as the most conservative choice. The gambit worked, and the socially conservative lawmaker, with a penchant for verbal gaffes won the nomination. He still looked like the favorite against McCaskill until he awkwardly spoke on a television appearance about "legitimate rape", and the debunked medical theory that a pregnancy could not occur, as a way to explain his opposition to abortion, even in the case of rape. While he was likely differentiating between forcible rape and statutory rape, the damage was immediate. Republicans tried in vain to get him out of the race, but he insisted on staying in, after having been all but abandoned by the party, and McCaskill wound up winning another term fairly easily. Very few politicians would be luckier that year.

All the while, Missouri continues to become more Republican at just about every level of government. The evolution of the vote in Presidential elections has the longtime bellwether not even being a swing state anymore. It was clear McCaskill would have her work cut out for her if she wished to win a third term. At the same time, no other Democrat was believed capable of holding the seat. So, McCaskill is running and while all sorts of candidates are able to qualify for the August primary ballot, she won renomination with 83 percent. Speaking further to her tenacity, she has successfully battled breast cancer in recent years.

For many months, Republicans searched for the strongest possible candidate to oppose the incumbent. Congresswoman Ann Wagner was thought of as the top NRSC recruit, but she took a pass. Attention would then turn to recently elected state Attorney General Josh Hawley, who had been demurring, but after just seven months into his statewide term, filed an exploratory committee. Born on the last day of the 1970s, Hawley is staunchly conservative and seen as a rising star in the party.

Hawley would not have the GOP field to himself however. Numerous other candidates ran, and a couple of whom, including a 2016 Libertarian Party Presidential reject, could boast national endorsements from conservative figures. Hawley had the backing of Republicans in Washington though, including most significantly, from Donald Trump. Hawley would win the primary with 59 percent of the vote while 10 other candidates split the remainder. The closest of which, with just under 10 percent of the vote, was Austin Monetti, a retired military pilot, who became a university official for the aviation department. He boasted the endorsement of Sarah Palin.

The McCaskill vs. Hawley race was immediately pegged as one of the most crucial to watch. Polls throughout have been very close, though those conducted by Democrat organizations have tended to give a slight lead to McCaskill and vice versa for the Republican conducted polls. For several weeks, the state was engulfed in a controversy surrounding the actions, complete with tawdry details, of the recently elected outsider GOP Governor Eric Greitens. Many felt that his situation could imperil Hawley this year, though the Attorney General was technically prosecuting the Governor. Greitens even briefly threatened to run for the Senate seat as an Independent, but eventually he would resign from office, to the relief of most Republicans, and the situation seems over. A moderate Republican, attorney Craig O'Dear has filed for general election as an Independent and could swing the result (along with the third party candidates) if the results are very tight, but there does not seem to be any evidence that O'Dear is registering yet with the state's voters.

As the incumbent, McCaskill has a large financial advantage at this point, and will benefit from an anti-Trump midterm turnout. These are reasons why she is very much a realistic possibility to win another term. However, her opponent, despite his relative youth, is a much stronger candidate than the one she drew six years earlier, and can claim the experience of having won a statewide contest already.

The bottom line is that Donald Trump, for now, remains more popular in Missouri than in many other states and the nationalization of this race could hurt McCaskill more than help her. She will be closely watched for how she votes this month on the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. She runs the risk of either alienating her party or the kind of swing voters she needs. Her vote last year against Neil Gorsuch is already being used against her in the campaign. Republicans are definitely focused on defeating her once and for all, and often poke at her ethics and tendency to over-speak. An example of the latter is when she falsely claimed to have never met with the Russian Ambassador, when she was trying to needle Attorney General Jeff Sessions. As it turns out, she had.

This race can truly go either way, but in our polarized political system, Missouri is fairly red these days and McCaskill may be hard pressed to pull out a political rabbit out of a hat.

U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 
11 D (7 Safe, 2 Likely, 1 Leans, 1 Tossup), 
  5 R (1 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:
34 D (23 holdovers, 7 Safe, 2 Likely, 1 Leans, 1 Tossup)
47 R (42 holdovers, 1 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Tossup)


At 2:41 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

Bold Prediction: McCaskill loses!


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