Former U.S. Sens. Jack Danforth and Jim Talent pushed back Tuesday on the notion that Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley has mismanaged his Senate campaign, a day after fellow Republican Kit Bond sounded alarms about the high-stakes race.
Bond, the former Missouri governor and senator, told USA Today Monday that if Hawley “doesn’t gear it up and get with it, he’ll not beat” U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, the incumbent Democrat, in a race that could decide control of the U.S. Senate.
“I think a lot of people who want to see Hawley elected (are) wishing he’d get to work, doing fundraising and getting out and campaigning actively,” Bond said.
Hawley had about $1.2 million cash on hand in January, nearly $8 million less than McCaskill. In addition, McCaskill outraised him 3-to-1 during the final three months of 2017.
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But Danforth, whose time in the Senate overlapped with Bond’s, doesn’t share his worry.
“I think he’s wrong,” Danforth said of Bond. “First of all, I think the money will be there for Hawley. I don’t have any doubt about that.”
Talent, who lost his re-election campaign to McCaskill in 2006, said that he thinks Hawley’s strategy is to leverage his work as attorney general at this point in the race.
“What Josh’s doing now is pretty much what Claire’s playbook was in 2006. I outraised her, but she used the state auditor job effectively to get publicity,” Talent said.
Bond’s concern about the race comes at a time when there is speculation that U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, a St. Louis area Republican, may reconsider whether to enter the race. Wagner has $3.2 million in her campaign account.
Danforth said he was unfamiliar the rumors that Wagner might get into the race. He called the idea ill-advised.
“I don’t know anything about it. But it seems nuts to me,” Danforth said. “What would be the result of that if that happens? Would Wagner have any chance in the world to get elected to the Senate? It doesn’t seem at all sensible.”
Wagner’s campaign would not respond to Danforth’s comments.
Wagner announced in July that she would not be pursuing a Senate run after a public campaign by Danforth and other Republicans to recruit Hawley to the race.
Two weeks after her announcement, Bond, Danforth, Talent and Missouri’s other former Republican senator, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, signed a letter encouraging Hawley to run.
Despite his confidence in Hawley, Danforth said he expects a close general election race because of McCaskill’s skill as a candidate.
He pointed to how McCaskill’s campaign capitalized on the controversy over a speech in which Hawley tied sex trafficking to the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
The remarks, which were first made in December and reported by The Star last week, received national criticism. In a fundraising email, McCaskill compared them to former U.S. Rep. Todd Akin’s 2012 comments about “legitimate rape.”
Danforth said Hawley’s speech has been misinterpreted.
“There’s nothing strange about Josh Hawley. There’s nothing Akin-like,” Danforth said.
“Claire McCaskill is a very shrewd campaigner,” he said. “I thought what she did with the sex trafficking thing was classic McCaskill. It was just classic McCaskill. Trying to do what she did with Akin.”
Danforth accused McCaskill of mischaracterizing the meaning of Hawley’s words and noted that Hawley’s wife, Erin Morrow Hawley, clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and teaches law at the University of Missouri.
“This is not somebody who has some sort of strange, dismissive view of women,” Danforth said. “He was talking about something happening in our culture.”
Danforth contended that American culture has become increasingly crass over the last 50 years. He even chastised members of his own party for participating in that, including President Donald Trump and failed Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore.
“Look at the politicians now. The culture has an effect on how people treat each other. And that’s what he was saying,” Danforth said.
McCaskill laughed off Republicans blaming her for Hawley’s recent troubles during a brief conversation Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
“I’m getting an awful lot of credit that I don’t deserve,” she said. “I mean, it’s really unbelievable. You know, I ran an ad with my name on it and now I’m responsible for everything, including his bad fundraising and his weird comments about sex trafficking.”
Kyle Plotkin, Hawley’s campaign manager, disputed the notion that Hawley’s fundraising numbers were a cause for concern.
He said that Hawley has raised more money than any other Republican challenger in the country this year and disputed the idea that McCaskill’s fundraising advantage would make a difference.
“Hillary Clinton outraised President Trump, but it obviously did not translate onto the ballot,” Plotkin said.
Plotkin also disagreed with Bond’s contention that Hawley needs to be campaigning more actively in this stage of the election.
“Voters think campaigns are too long as it is. And there’ll be plenty of time for campaigning this. Josh has been out front and very aggressive in his role as AG,” he said.
Talent said that he’s content with where the race stands roughly 10 months before the general election. He said he’s more concerned about Republicans’ prospects nationally than he is with Hawley.
“He is going to have to — as we get closer to the election — he and McCaskill both are going to be working 80-hour weeks,” Talent said.
Danforth said both candidates will have enough cash to flood Missouri airwaves with commercials, but he said Hawley’s best opportunity to beat McCaskill will be on the debate stage.
“I think this election is going to be more than the 30-second commercials or the social media or the tweets or whatever,” he said.
Danforth said Hawley should hammer McCaskill on her vote against Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and the dysfunction of the Senate.
“I think his campaign should hit the high points and hit them absolutely relentlessly. And the basic high point is what is the Senate doing? And what should it be doing?" Danforth said. “…That will focus attention on what is important. What is important is not should he have used the words that he did when he was talking about a cultural thing.”
The Star’s Lindsay Wise contributed to this report.