Government & Politics

Independent candidate could complicate Senate race for McCaskill, Hawley

Kansas City lawyer Craig O’Dear made it official Thursday: He’s running for the U.S. Senate as an independent.
Kansas City lawyer Craig O’Dear made it official Thursday: He’s running for the U.S. Senate as an independent.

A Kansas City lawyer officially launched an independent bid for U.S. Senate on Thursday, entering a race that could decide which party controls the chamber next year.

Independent Craig O’Dear will compete for votes with U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, the Democratic incumbent, and the eventual Republican nominee.

McCaskill is seen as one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the country as she runs for re-election in a state President Donald Trump won by double digits, but the presence of an independent in the race could complicate the campaign for both parties.

O’Dear, 60, said he thinks he can win if he captures 35 percent to 40 percent of the vote in a three-way race.

“From what I hear both candidates’ campaigns are concerned I take votes from them,” O’Dear said about McCaskill and GOP frontrunner Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley.

O’Dear has previously said he was encouraged to run by Greg Orman, a businessman mounting an independent run for governor in Kansas. He will take a leave of absence from the Bryan Cave law firm while he runs for Senate.

O’Dear, who launched an exploratory bid last month, has donated to candidates of both political parties over the years, including $3,200 to Republican Gov. Eric Greitens’ successful 2016 campaign.

Kansas City lawyer Craig O’Dear is exploring an independent run for the U.S. Senate seat in Missouri. O’Dear discusses some of his reasons and philosophy going into his decision.

O’Dear announced his exploratory campaign hours before Greitens faced allegations that he blackmailed a woman in 2015 to keep her from speaking about an extramarital affair.

In the weeks since, the governor has faced calls for his resignation from lawmakers of both parties and a criminal investigation in St. Louis.

“I feel regret for him and his family and the other family involved,” O’Dear said about Greitens, who has previously described as a friend. “And I don’t really have any comment beyond that. Depending on what happens with the investigation, everything else, we’ll see where that goes. It’s a personal tragedy.”

O’Dear also weighed in on the controversy over a speech in which Hawley tied sex trafficking to the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

“My concern is it is simply another manifestation of this culture war that is being fomented by the parties. … We don’t need leaders who are focused on fomenting culture warfare,” he said.

Hawley’s campaign responded to O’Dear’s candidacy by noting his $1,000 donation to Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“Another Hillary-loving liberal enters the race. We look forward to watching the trial lawyer and Senator McCaskill compete to be the liberal standard-bearer,” Kelli Ford, Hawley’s spokeswoman, said in a statement.

O’Dear does not plan to caucus with either party if he is elected to the Senate. He said that the fact that the federal government has faced a shutdown twice in the span of two months demonstrates the dysfunction caused by the party system.

“The problem in the United States Senate is everything is controlled by two caucuses. … We have got to find a way to introduce some non-caucus space in this country,” he said.

Craig O’Dear, a Kansas City lawyer exploring the idea of running for the U.S. Senate in Missouri as an independent, discusses his thoughts on breaking the gridlock in Washington, taxes and health care.

O’Dear said that is a central part of his pitch to voters even if they identify as Republicans or Democrats.

“You want to help your party, help get me elected,” he said. “It will moderate both parties if you help create a center.”

McCaskill was one of only five Senate Democrats to vote against shutting down the federal government in January, but O’Dear contended that her move to the center was part of an election year strategy.

He also criticized President Donald Trump for proposing spending increases after pushing for tax cuts last year, two moves that will increase the country’s deficit.

Bryan Lowry: 816-234-4077, @BryanLowry3