Political newcomer Josh Hawley has ousted Missouri’s senior senator, Democrat Claire McCaskill, the culmination of a hard-fought campaign he centered on control of the U.S. Senate.
Hawley told a jubilant crowd in Springfield late Tuesday that McCaskill had called to concede, and that she “couldn’t have been more gracious.”
“Tonight the good Lord and the people of Missouri have given us the victory,” Hawley said.
“What the people of Missouri said tonight is that they want a senator who actually stands with the people of Missouri, represents our values and represents our voice and will fight for us in Washington, D.C., and I will.”
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Hawley pledged to support farmers, work on border security, increase job and wage growth and put “pro-Constitution judges” on the bench.
The crowd at his watch party in Springfield, in high spirits all night, had erupted in uproarious applause when former Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder announced that news outlets had called the race. Soon chants of “USA!” arose from the crowd dotted with President Donald Trump’s iconic red “Make America Great Again” hats.
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., celebrated Trump’s help in the Missouri Senate race as the balance of the Senate began to tip further toward Republicans.
Hawley called the race a historic moment for the state.
“Tonight the people of Missouri have said we’re up to the challenge. Tonight the people of Missouri have said we’re ready to answer the call in this hour,” Hawley said. “Tonight the people of Missouri have said we believe in America. We believe that our best days are ahead. We believe in our future and we are ready to fight for it, and I am ready to go to Washington and fight for you.”
After a brief victory speech, Hawley greeted supporters and then left the ballroom without taking questions from reporters.
For months, public polls deemed the contest a tie, but Hawley, Missouri’s Republican attorney general, pulled ahead.
McCaskill, the highest-ranking Democrat in statewide office, fought hard to try to retain her seat in a state Trump won by 19 points. She walked a tightrope, attempting to energize a progressive base and win over swing voters who may have voted for Trump.
At her election night party in St. Louis, supporters were in tears as McCaskill took the stage to say goodbye to Missouri politics.
“The people of Missouri allowed me, beginning when I was 28 years old, to be in public service,” McCaskill said. “For decades, I’ve been blessed to get up every day and work in a challenging and interesting job trying to make things better in people’s lives… This state drives me crazy, but I love every corner of it. I even love the reddest of the reddest counties.”
McCaskill’s campaign focused primarily on pocketbook issues, like health care. She backed a ballot initiative raising Missouri’s minimum wage and a union-led referendum on the Republican-backed right to work law passed by the Missouri General Assembly.
In Kansas City, voters turned out overwhelmingly for McCaskill, but it wasn’t enough to carry her to victory. And while Greene County, which contains Springfield, turned out for Hawley, McCaskill fared better than Hillary Clinton did in the 2016 presidential election.
While McCaskill insisted she’s a moderate, Hawley sought to tie her to national Democratic leaders, including U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
During the campaign, McCaskill said she supported increased border security and she touted an endorsement by the union that represents Border Patrol agents, while Hawley accused her of supporting a “radical” immigration bill. The bill McCaskill is co-sponsoring would halt family separations at the border.
McCaskill tried to focus the race on protecting parts of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act — the same one Trump campaigned on repealing. Hawley is part of a Republican lawsuit that would undo the health care law.
Hawley, in response, said he supported a stand-alone law requiring that insurance companies provide coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. His campaign released an ad featuring his son, who he said has a rare chronic bone condition.
As Election Day drew closer, McCaskill doubled down on her narrative that she doesn’t just follow the party line. She received backlash for a comment about not being a “crazy Democrat,” which she defined as anyone who shouts at public officials in restaurants or paints swastikas on political yard signs.
Days later, she criticized Hawley for his management of the Attorney General’s Office after The Star reported that before Hawley launched his Senate campaign, political consultants were shaping his brand as attorney general and directly advising his government staff.
McCaskill called that “potentially illegal” and her campaign had accused Hawley of being a “ladder-climbing politician” after vowing during his attorney general campaign that he wouldn’t use one political office to get another.
In the end, Hawley’s message that McCaskill had lost touch with Missouri carried him across the finish line.
In stump speeches at manufacturers, cafes and farms across the state Hawley made the Missouri race a national one. He emphasized Missouri’s role in determining the partisan balance of the U.S. Senate. Missouri, he said, would determine the fate of the country.
“Control of the Senate is going to come down to our votes in this state,” he told supporters in Riverside last month. “What happens in Congress is going to come down to our votes in this state, and that means what happens in this country for these next years is going to come down to what we do in November.”
McCaskill, Schumer and Pelosi’s faces were plastered on the side of his campaign bus, nearly as large of the graphic of Hawley himself. He swung through Missouri on his “Stop Schumer, Fire Claire” tour.
Hawley criticized McCaskill for voting against Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, whose confirmation process became a mainstay in Hawley’s stump speeches. He accused her of being part of a “smear campaign” against a “good man” after allegations arose that Kavanaugh assaulted a woman in high school.
McCaskill said it was Kavanaugh’s position on anonymous political spending, or dark money, that lost him her vote, but her vote against Kavanaugh likely energized some Republican voters.
Hawley argued the justice’s contentious confirmation process wasn’t “really about Brett Kavanaugh.”
“It’s not even really about the Supreme Court,” Hawley said last month. “At the end of the day, it’s about you. It’s about the fact that the liberal Democrats have never accepted what you said in 2016. They never have. They’ve never accepted what you want, and now they are desperate to take back power and undo the results of the 2016 election.”
Trump was a central part of the campaign between McCaskill and Hawley. He stumped for Hawley repeatedly, stopping in Missouri twice in the last week before Election Day. He offered support for Hawley on Twitter and claimed McCaskill would “always vote against us and the great state of Missouri.”
Trump backed Hawley’s campaign early on, endorsing him over other Republicans well ahead of the August primary. At the same time, he criticized McCaskill for using a private plane during what was supposed to be an RV tour of Missouri.
Vice President Mike Pence, too, came to Kansas City to support Hawley along with Republican candidates in Kansas.