Claire McCaskill has earned another term in the Senate — and The Star’s endorsement

Sen. Claire McCaskill speaks to The Kansas City Star’s editorial board

Incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill met with The Kansas City Star editorial board on Oct. 15, 2018. She discussed her priorities in the campaign, as well as her frustration that it hasn't centered more on issues and discussion.
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Incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill met with The Kansas City Star editorial board on Oct. 15, 2018. She discussed her priorities in the campaign, as well as her frustration that it hasn't centered more on issues and discussion.

What a door-to-door disappointment this Missouri Senate race has been. A year of thumb wrestling between Republican challenger Josh Hawley and the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Claire McCaskill, would have enlightened us more and exhausted us less.

Mostly, that’s because the appealingly thoughtful and independent-minded Hawley who met with our editorial board in June of last year, as Missouri’s new attorney general, went missing the day he jumped into the U.S. Senate race. He was almost never seen in public again.

Oh, there he is, we said when Hawley called on his fellow Republican, then-Gov. Eric Greitens, to resign over allegations of sexual misconduct.

But at no point since then has Hawley strayed from his tightly scripted talking points. He’s refused to stand up for the interests of Missouri farmers and manufacturers hurt by tariffs, and has claimed with a straight face that all violent political rhetoric comes from Democrats.

Turns out, there’s a reason for that: A Star investigation found that just weeks after being sworn in as attorney general, he outsourced some aspects of his job to the political consultants who ended up running a lot more than his U.S. Senate campaign. Star reporters found that they “stepped in to help direct the office of the Missouri attorney general — and raise his national profile.”

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All of Missouri knew that in running for the U.S. Senate less than a year into his term as attorney general, Hawley was breaking the promise on which he’d run in 2016 — that he wouldn’t be one more of those “career politicians just climbing the ladder, using one office to get another.”

But to have been such a career politician that he immediately brought in consultants to whom taxpayer-paid employees felt they were reporting surely sets some kind of record for politicians who say one thing and do another.

In his victory speech, Hawley said, “To the political establishment in Jefferson City, those of you, consultants and the lobbyists and the professional political class who’ve gotten used to running our state — your day is over.” In truth, their day was dawning.

That Hawley’s press releases haven’t matched his accomplishments as attorney general is suddenly no mystery, either. Nor is the fact that the campaign Hawley has run against “Millionaire Claire” McCaskill has been unrelievedly formulaic, as well as dishonest and divisive. (No, she did not use her office to enrich her family; no, she doesn’t want to raise taxes on the middle class; and no, she isn’t for “open borders.”)

It’s McCaskill who won the endorsement of border control agents, the National Border Patrol Council. When asked about illegal immigration, she gives a detailed answer about what will and will not work along different stretches of our southern border, based on what she’s learned from those agents. Hawley, who declined to meet with The Star editorial board for an endorsement interview, says build the wall, period.

No one can say that he’s one of those candidates who spends big money on consultants and then ignores their advice. On the contrary, he is a consultant’s dream candidate, never breaking character or showing so much as a flicker of acknowledgment that any issue might be more complicated than a sound bite or that anyone across the aisle might ever have a legitimate point.

Especially with Hawley’s party in control of every branch of government, independence is a job requirement. At least on this point he is forthright, saying that a vote for him is a vote for the Trump agenda. When he says he’d arrive in Washington owing no one, though, Hawley neglects to mention the president to whom he would owe his Senate seat.

Contrary to his claims that his opponent always votes with her party when it matters, McCaskill does have a record of independence. Govtrack, which keeps track of all votes, gives her a right-in-the-middle “ideology score” of .50, which makes her the sixth-most conservative Senate Democrat.

That’s why ProgressivePunch.org, which rates Democrats according to their adherence to liberal ideology, not surprisingly gives McCaskill a “D” rating. She’s voted with Trump 44.9 percent of the time and against her party on some important measures, breaking with Democrats on construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and even voting to weaken Dodd-Frank protections by easing regulations on community banks and credit unions.

Though issues have not been front and center in this race, the policy differences between the two are clear. On health care, McCaskill has tried to shore up the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges, while Hawley was one of 20 state attorneys general who filed suit to overturn Obamacare in its entirety. If his suit succeeded, it would end protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Lately, he’s said that he still wants insurance companies to be forced to cover those with chronic illnesses, like his own 5-year-old son, but how? Without the ACA’s individual mandate, which forces healthy people into the risk pool, how could insurers afford to do that? That’s unclear, especially since the bill that Senate Republicans introduced in August to answer that criticism would still allow insurers to deny treatment for certain pre-existing conditions.

Independent Craig O’Dear, a Kansas City trial attorney running against the gridlock of the two-party system, is right about the logjam but does not show a serious grasp of or interest in any issue beyond the importance of his own candidacy. Libertarian Japeth Campbell and Jo Crain of the Green Party are also on the ballot.

McCaskill’s odd closing argument for her re-election is that she’s “pushy” and “loud-mouthed” and “obnoxious,” but a workhorse for Missouri. “I get it,” she told The Star editorial board, “I can be pretty unlikeable.” Unusual as that is, we’ll take the candidate who might be too eager to admit flaws over one who never does.

McCaskill has earned another term — and The Star’s endorsement. Hawley has proved to be a disappointment in ways that are that go beyond even the “politics as usual” he used to rail against.

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