Republican challenger Josh Hawley defeated incumbent Claire McCaskill in the Missouri Senate race, perhaps solidifying the state’s move to the right and proving that the Supreme Court battle was an effective GOP campaign message.
With 85 percent of precincts reporting, Hawley led McCaskill 53 percent to 44 percent, according to The Associated Press.
The Show-Me State was a top target for Republicans since it backed President Donald Trump by 19 points in 2016, but McCaskill earned a reputation on both sides of the aisle as an astute politician who would be difficult to beat. When GOP Rep. Ann Wagner made the surprise announcement last year that she would not run for Senate, attention shifted to Hawley, who was elected state attorney general in 2016.
The former law professor was respected by the GOP base and intellectuals on the right. But he initially raised concerns among Republicans about his lackluster fundraising and absence on the campaign trail. He was also dogged by an ad from his 2016 race in which he criticized politicians who used one office as a stepping stone to another.
But Hawley increased his activity over the summer, centering much of his campaign on the push for conservative justices, which only intensified when Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy announced his retirement. Missouri is among the states where Republicans believe the intense battle over the confirmation of Kennedy’s replacement, Brett M. Kavanaugh, helped energize their voters.
McCaskill positioned herself as an independent voice for Missourians, pledging to work to protect their health care, Medicare and Social Security. She criticized Hawley for signing on to a lawsuit challenging the 2010 health care law, which, if successful, would undo protections for people with pre-existing health conditions. The attack appeared to be effective, prompting Hawley to take to the airwaves with a television ad saying he supports such protections.
McCaskill had the difficult task of appealing to Republican and independent voters in Missouri, who tend to be more conservative, while also energizing Democrats, including African-Americans, a key voting bloc for her.
The two-term senator did have a sizable financial advantage in the race, though the race also attracted millions in outside spending. McCaskill raised a total of $35 million compared to Hawley’s $10 million.
McCaskill was one of only two Democrats left in statewide office in Missouri. The other, state Auditor Nicole Galloway, was leading her Republican opponent by 4 points with 85 percent of precincts reporting Tuesday night.
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