Missouri’s Republican Attorney Gen. Josh Hawley will face Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in November in a race that will be crucial for deciding control of the U.S. Senate.
Hawley had been widely expected to win the Republican party’s nomination to run against McCaskill. Their matchup will be one of the most closely watched races in the nation, as the GOP fights to maintain its narrow majority in the Senate.
“This is one of the four or five seats in the country that Republicans have a real shot of taking over,” said Republican strategist Rob Jesmer. “The reality is we may lose one or two seats somewhere else, so we kind of need to hold onto our slim margin. One or two seats makes a big difference.”
Hawley defeated 10 Republicans, including Austin Petersen, a libertarian running as a Republican; Tony Monetti, a businessman and veteran; and Courtland Sykes, a Navy veteran who made headlines earlier this year when he called feminists “she devils” and said he wanted his daughters to be homemakers, not “career-obsessed banshees.”
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The National Republican Senatorial Committee’s executive director Chris Hansen said in a statement Tuesday night that Hawley “has established himself as a conservative champion for Missouri families, and we have no doubt he will beat Claire McCaskill this November.”
McCaskill, who easily won her own party’s nomination on Tuesday, immediately issued a debate challenge to Hawley.
“As a U.S. Senator it is my job to hold myself accountable to all Missourians,” wrote McCaskill. “That’s why I’ve held public town halls with Missourians throughout my time as Senator — including more than 50 across the state since 2017...Missourians deserve the same chance to ask your questions and hear your answers as they have consistently had with me.”
Hawley responded with his own debate challenge.
“With this critical step, I am proposing a series of one-on-one debates all over Missouri,” Hawley said in a statement. “Just me and Senator McCaskill. No moderator. No complicated rules. Just me and Claire McCaskill debating on the back of a flatbed truck, traveling all over the state to air out our differences. That way everyone in Missouri can make up their mind based on what they see with their own eyes. And it starts tomorrow.”
In the lead-up to the primary this week, some local Republican leaders had criticized Hawley for not spending more time at grassroots party events where candidates are expected to woo voters.
Still, Hawley benefited from President Donald Trump’s endorsement last year. Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have traveled multiple times to Missouri to rally alongside Hawley and fund-raise for him.
Despite Trump’s help, Hawley hasn’t been able to keep up with McCaskill’s fund-raising. He has about $2 million in his campaign coffers compared to her $12 million.
McCaskill, who is seeking her third term, holds the advantage in campaign cash, but she sees herself as the underdog.
Trump beat Hillary Clinton by nearly 19 percentage points in Missouri in 2016, and national Republicans consider McCaskill’s seat one of their best pickup opportunities in the midterm elections.
Prominent Republican donors and politicians in Missouri publicly recruited Hawley to run for Senate last year, just a few months after he took office as attorney general.
When Hawley officially announced he had decided to run for Senate in October, Missouri Democrats were quick to remind voters of a commercial Hawley had aired during his attorney general campaign, in which he promised not to use the statewide office as a stepping stone.
“Jefferson City is full of career politicians just climbing the ladder — using one office to get another ... I think you deserve better,” Hawley told voters in the ad.
Hawley was a law professor at the University of Missouri and a newcomer to politics when he launched his bid for attorney general in 2015. He defeated a state senator from Columbia in a hard-fought Republican primary, then swept to victory in the fall.
Hawley won more votes than any other person on the Missouri ballot in 2016, including Trump — a fact that drew the attention of GOP donors eager to topple McCaskill in the upcoming midterm elections.
There were few surprises in other congressional races around Missouri.
U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, a Republican incumbent who represents Missouri’s 6th congressional district, was unopposed. He will face Henry Martin, who won the Democratic primary.
U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, the Republican congresswoman from Missouri’s 4th congressional district, won easily. She will face Renee Hoagenson, who won the Democratic nomination.
U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, the former Democratic mayor of Kansas City, also won his party’s nomination for the 5th congressional district. Republicans nominated Jacob Turk to run against Cleaver.