Government & Politics

GOP’s top Senate recruit in Missouri won’t commit to voting for McConnell as leader

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (left) and Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, a candidate for U.S. Senate in 2018.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (left) and Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, a candidate for U.S. Senate in 2018. File photos

Missouri Attorney Gen. Josh Hawley, Republicans’ top recruit to challenge Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, won’t commit to voting for Mitch McConnell as Senate Republican leader if elected in 2018.

Hawley’s campaign spokesman, Scott Paradise, was asked directly whether his boss would support McConnell. Paradise deflected the question.

“The Senate is broken and failing the people of Missouri,” he said in an email.

“Josh is running because he is not willing to tolerate the failure of the D.C. establishment any longer,” Paradise said. “He won’t tolerate Claire McCaskill’s failure. And he won’t tolerate Republican failure, either.”

Paradise’s statement did not mention McConnell by name. The spokesman did not respond to a follow-up question about how Hawley defines D.C. establishment, and whether he considers McConnell part of it.

McConnell has come under heavy fire in recent days from conservatives including Breitbart executive Steve Bannon, Jenny Beth Martin, a co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, and Ken Cuccinelli, president of the Senate Conservatives Fund. They blame the Kentucky Republican for failing to advance President Donald Trump’s agenda in Congress.

Trump also told reporters on Monday that he understood “where Steve Bannon is coming from” in his criticism of McConnell. But after hosting McConnell for lunch at the White House, the president said he would get Bannon to leave McConnell and his friends alone.

Hawley was a political newcomer in Missouri when he won a hard-fought attorney general’s race in November. High-profile Republican leaders and donors, including former U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth and Vice President Mike Pence, began urging him to run against McCaskill as early as April.

McCaskill is widely considered the most endangered Democratic senator running for re-election in 2018. Trump won Missouri by about 19 percentage points.

Hawley formally announced his Senate campaign last week, but has been fundraising for a possible run since early August.

He faces the difficult balancing act of trying to appeal to voters across the conservative spectrum in deeply divided Republican Party.

A week before he officially announced his candidacy for Senate, Hawley spoke by phone with Bannon to share his conservative “vision.”

Three days after that announcement, Hawley was in New York to mingle with GOP donors and policymakers at a seminar hosted by Americans for Prosperity. The advocacy group is funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, who have been cool to Bannon and Trump in the past.

Hawley also has come under pressure from some of his primary opponents and other Missouri Republicans to disavow his mentor Danforth, who has criticized Trump as “the most divisive president in our history.”

Lindsay Wise: 202-383-6007, @lindsaywise