Voters around the state are receiving political mailers from an anonymous source attacking Republican U.S. Senate candidate Josh Hawley on a range of issues — from gun rights to his push to oust former Gov. Eric Greitens.
And they each imply voters should support a third-party or independent candidate.
The mailers fail to identify who paid for them, which is required by law. But they appear to be connected to a group called Coalition for a Safe Secure America, which has run Facebook ads against Hawley and other anonymous mailers attacking GOP senate candidates in Montana and Indiana.
Hawley, the state’s attorney general, is running against incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in one of the most hotly contested Senate campaigns in the country.
The Missouri Republican Party responded to the mailers Thursday afternoon by publicly calling for an FBI investigation.
“I think it’s a trick on Republican voters to try to trick them into thinking there are more conservative candidates than Josh Hawley,” said Todd Graves, chairman of the Missouri GOP.
One of the mailers, received by a voter in Clay County, said Hawley “wants to make it harder to buy guns.” It then calls independent Senate candidate Craig O’Dear a “tireless defender of our 2nd Amendment rights.” Another mailer says voters can’t count on Hawley “to protect our gun rights,” then lays out the positions of Libertarian candidate Japheth Campbell.
Another mailer attacks Hawley for calling on Greitens to resign earlier this year. Greitens was facing two felony charges, as well as allegations that he engaged in coercive and sexually violent misconduct during a 2015 affair.
He resigned June 1.
“Josh Hawley led a witch hunt against Governor Eric Greitens,” the mailer states, later adding that Hawley “unfairly attacked Governor Greitens before he had all the facts, like Washington liberals attacked Judge Kavanaugh.”
O’Dear criticized the gun-rights mailers in a Facebook post on Monday.
“The flyer, as described to us, attacks Josh Hawley for his Second Amendment position, and does so in a misleading manner,” he said. “It’s not ugly; it’s just misleading. Anyone who is familiar with our campaign would know the flyer makes no sense — it criticizes Hawley for purportedly taking positions we actually support.”
Hawley was endorsed by the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund, which called him a “champion of our Second Amendment freedoms.”
His spokeswoman, Kelli Ford, placed the blame for the mailers on McCaskill.
“Sounds like another dirty trick by Claire McCaskill,” she said. “She wrote the book on it. This is just more of the same.”
Ford was referencing McCaskill’s book, “Plenty Ladylike,” where she discusses behind-the-scenes efforts to support Todd Akin in advance of the 2012 Missouri Republican primary.
McCaskill’s campaign denied any connection to the mailer.
“Claire condemns all dark money efforts, including these mailers,” said Meira Bernstein, McCaskill’s spokeswoman. “Josh Hawley supports anonymous political giving, and Claire will continue to work hard to end it.”
The mailers are similar to ones circulating in Montana and Indiana, two other states like Missouri where an incumbent Democrat is running in a tight Senate race. The ads appear to be the work of Coalition For a Safe Secure America, a group that is not registered with the Federal Elections Commission or the Internal Revenue Service.
The group has run 21 different Facebook video ads in Missouri, some with the same messaging and stock images as the mailers circulating Missouri.
Attempts to reach Coalition For a Safe Secure America were unsuccessful, and the group’s website is “under construction.”