Claire McCaskill has gone country.
That’s country as in all things rural. That’s where the Missouri Democrat must do well next year as she seeks a third term in the U.S. Senate.
She doesn’t have to win the countryside, which is fortunate for her because Donald Trump carried the state by 19 points last year, and voters picked Republicans up and down the ballot.
But McCaskill needs to pull enough votes to ensure that her support in the two big cities will put her over the top.
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These days, in press releases and official statements, McCaskill is emphasizing the word “rural” a lot. She’s “protecting rural hospitals” and “expanding hunting and fishing rights,” she said this week in a pair of statements.
She focused this month on “protecting rural Missouri” in her meeting with Sonny Perdue, the agriculture secretary nominee. Her office told us that McCaskill is helping Missouri ranchers gain access to Chinese markets and demanding answers about why rural hospitals are closing.
Another release reminded us that the senator has worked for years to ensure U.S. Postal Service access for rural communities.
Her office also points out often that the Democrat champions causes that play well in rural America. Regarding the Keystone Pipeline, “McCaskill demands use of American steel.” She worked to stop auto regulations from interfering with motor sports, and she’s striving to curb unreasonable government regulations. In March, McCaskill spoke to the International Association of Firefighters “whose sacrifices keep our families safe.”
She’s all for rebuilding roads in outstate Missouri and expanding broadband as well, she said in other releases. McCaskill opposed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos because she was “bad” for rural Missouri.
All of this isn’t entirely new. McCaskill has focused on outstate for years. But let’s just say she’s emphasizing it these days. On her ongoing listening tour, she tells rural voters that she respects those who backed Trump. She says she can still fight for their interests.
Look at the election map, and you’ll see what’s driving this. Save for two blue patches in Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri has gone red. Democratic support outstate has collapsed. In November, the number of rural Democratic voters plunged 25 percent from 2012.
McCaskill won re-election that year because of Republican Todd Akin’s rape comments. She won her first Senate race in 2006 in a Democratic wave election. Both of those developments covered over rural weakness.
In fact, McCaskill’s only loss in a political career that now dates to 1982 came in the 2004 governor’s race when her outstate support unexpectedly cratered in an election that marked the beginning of tough times for statewide Democrats. She focused on fixing that in the 2006 Senate race, launching her campaign in front of the old McCaskill & Son mill in tiny Houston, where she spent her early years.
She told the crowd that day that she had learned to fish in a nearby pond. My father “insisted I couldn’t fish if I didn’t tear that night crawler in half myself,” McCaskill said.
Outstate Missouri may not care for her opposition to Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. Rural voters also may not appreciate her ongoing opposition to Trump.
But some of this comes early enough in her term that it may be forgotten 18 months from now.
Next year, she won’t have Akin to kick around. It will most likely be either Congresswoman Ann Wagner or Attorney General Josh Hawley, who started making noise this week that he might run, too.
No matter the opponent, the countryside will decide if McCaskill stays in Washington.