Republicans will pick up a Senate in Missouri, CNN projects, with state attorney general Josh Hawley defeating Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in a state Donald Trump won by nearly 19 points in 2016.
Hawley touted himself as a self-proclaimed champion of Trump’s agenda who said McCaskill had become out-of-touch politically with the state she represents. Trump’s last campaign rally for the 2018 midterms was for Hawley in Missouri on Monday night.
Also central to Hawley’s strategy was the Senate’s role in confirming Supreme Court justices, which came into even sharper focus with the bitter battle over Brett Kavanaugh, whom McCaskill opposed.
From the beginning, McCaskill faced a challenging political landscape in her bid for re-election. Missouri has trended progressively more Republican since her last race in 2012.
But the dynamics in this election cycle, with Democrats unusually energized and Trump’s approval flagging, helped McCaskill to keep pace with Hawley right up until Election Day, giving her supporters hope that she could ultimately beat the odds to win another term.
It wouldn’t have been the first time. In 2012, when McCaskill was also viewed as a ripe target for Republicans, she enjoyed a stroke of immense political luck when her challenger, Rep. Todd Akin, suggested women could not become pregnant via “legitimate rape.” The comment sparked a firestorm, and McCaskill’s campaign was on cruise control from that point forward.
Hawley was no Akin, however. Although some Republicans initially worried that the young and relatively untested attorney general might not be up to the task of a rigorous campaign, he proved to be relentlessly on-message, with few vulnerabilities for McCaskill to exploit.
But Democrats saw an opening on health care: Hawley was among the attorneys general who signed on to a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act. McCaskill and Democrats aggressively attacked that decision, suggesting Hawley would do away with the law’s protections for people with preexisting conditions. Hawley pushed back with a personal ad featuring his eldest son, who suffers from such a condition, a rare bone disorder.
Hawley, meanwhile, sought to nationalize the race, homing in on the Supreme Court and the Kavanaugh confirmation process in an attempt to energize Missouri’s natural Republican base.
“Our way of life is at risk,” Hawley warned in his first television ad and echoed on the campaign trail.
Even as Trump’s approval flagged across the country, he remained popular among a wide swath of Missourians — and McCaskill needed to persuade a share of his supporters to cross party lines and back her. She attempted to do so by highlighting her moderate credentials and accessibility to voters of all stripes, holding town halls even in the most rural areas of the state. In a radio ad paid for by McCaskill’s campaign that aired in Republican-leaning areas of the state during the final weeks of the election, two men in conversation agreed that McCaskill was “not one of those crazy Democrats.”