WASHINGTON- Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, one of the most endangered Democrats in the 2018 mid-term campaign, is feeling heat from President Donald Trump and her likely Republican challenger, state Atty. Gen. Josh Hawley.
Trump is scheduled to be in St. Louis on Wednesday to attend an economic roundtable and a private fundraiser for Hawley, with tickets for the dinner going for as much as $50,000 per person, according to the Associated Press.
Hawley held a three-point lead over McCaskill in a hypothetical matching late last year, according to a poll conducted by Remington Research, a firm that leans Republican. Now Hawley holds a lead of eight points over McCaskill in a new poll conducted by Axios and Survey Monkey — 52 percent to 44 percent. The survey was conducted Feb. 12 through March 5.
McCaskill is in the same boat as Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana and seven others who are running in states where Trump defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by as much as 20 points.
McCaskill, 64, is one of the most powerful women in the Senate with seats on the Armed Services, Finance and Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committees.
Six years ago, she held onto her seat as part of a “blue wave.” She was helped immensely when her Republican challenger, former House member Todd Akin, caused an uproar with a controversial statement regarding abortions. Akin said that “If it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”
While McCaskill was considered vulnerable in that year – 2012 — she pulled off victory due to the missteps of the Akin.
McCaskill’s opponent this year is considered by many Republicans to be a much tougher and more cautious candidate. And with the support of Trump and party conservatives, Hawley he could turn this current blue Senate seat red.
Hawley won election as attorney general last year and now is angling for the GOP Senate nomination in an upcoming primary, in August. He was heavily recruited by GOP leaders to run against McCaskill. In 2012, McCaskill shrewdly made some ad buys with messages that indirectly favored Akin, who went on to win his party’s primary.
“She all but chose her opponent in 2012,” said Jennifer Duffy a Senior Editor for The Cook Political Report. “I think one of the most important factors in [McCaskill] defending her seat is, how much redder the state has become.”
McCaskill won that race in 2012, in a presidential election year by 54.7 percent of the vote.
“She’s not going to have that kind of luck this time,” Duffy said. “Hawley is in an interesting place, a solid place, he’s one of the very few [Senate] candidates that the establishment Republicans and Trump both like.”.
Initially, Republicans worried about an adverse Trump effect in Missouri, because of Trump’s low approval rating and historical trends that work against new presidents in mid-term elections. But it hasn’t worked out that way, and the new Commander in Chief is enjoying popularity in the state.
“There is no doubt, looking at the 2018 mid-terms, Trump will be a factor to boost and generate turn-out,” said Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Missouri.
There has been no indication that Hawley wants to distance himself from Trump, despite Trump’s decision to impose stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum imports – a protectionist action opposed by many establishment Republicans — and the president’s support of the failed Senate bid of Judge Roy Moore of Alabama.
“Republicans can’t control Trump,” Squire said. “It’s going to be hard for Hawley to separate from Trump.”
But embracing Trump, at least partially may be a winning formula for the GOP candidate.
“Hawley has to embrace the spirit of the Trump agenda without embracing the more extreme parts of it,” said Duffy.
McCaskill is billing herself as standing up to the Trump administration and top Republicans by advocating protecting Medicaid, and being one of the strongest critics of the GOP tax bills.
She’s also messaging support for Social Security, Medicare, and higher minimum wage.
“She’s a very good politician,” Duffy said. “She will play this race smartly.”