The possible U.S. Senate campaign pitting Sen. Claire McCaskill against Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley already shows signs of devolving into a meaningless mud fest.
The petty skirmishes should stop now. The 2018 Senate race must be about important things, not personal minutiae. Yet the campaigns and surrogates for both sides seem hell-bent on turning the race into content-free hot air.
McCaskill and Democrats are attacking Hawley for casting a primary ballot in Boone County this month. Missouri law requires the attorney general to “reside at the seat of government,” which is Jefferson City.
Hawley has an apartment there but also owns a home near Columbia. McCaskill finds that scandalous.
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“Either he’s violating the law by not living in Jefferson City or he’s violating the law by voting in some place he doesn’t live,” she said the other day. “One of the two.”
Surely McCaskill knows residency is one of the most slippery concepts in government and politics. In essence, you reside where you say you reside.
The U.S. Constitution, for example, requires a senator “when elected, (to) be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.”
Is McCaskill a Missouri “inhabitant”? She would say yes. Yet in 2014, she spent $2.7 million on an apartment in Washington, D.C. One assumes she inhabited that apartment, at least part of the time.
The Senate race shouldn’t be about a mailing address.
Republicans, of course, have engaged in similar silliness about McCaskill. They’re hammering her for the D.C. condo and for recent comments about flying.
Republicans heard something else. “To say that normal people can afford private planes is either totally delusional or just outright insulting to hardworking Missourians,” a GOP statement said.
We get it. McCaskill is wealthy. So are most members of Congress. Her colleague, Sen. Roy Blunt, is a millionaire (his residence was an issue in 2016). Missourians are smart enough to understand all of this.
Hawley obviously earns enough to maintain two residences just a few miles apart. Not many hardworking Missourians can afford that, either.
Personal behavior and decision-making can be important yardsticks for some voters, of course. Clear conflicts of interest or misfeasance in office are fair game for the state’s consideration next year. Favoritism, backroom deals, secret cash are unacceptable.
But the bar is high: The public’s interest must be at stake. So far, the dialogue in the Missouri Senate race has fallen far short of that standard.
The nation faces unbelievably tough choices on a range of issues: health care, taxes, spending, war, racism, opportunity, Donald Trump. The 2018 campaign must be focused on each candidate’s approach to those concerns and others.
To all candidates: Stop the silly sniping at each other over minor issues. Make the 2018 race about voters and not about you.