Josh Hawley, the Missouri attorney general hoping to unseat Sen. Claire McCaskill this fall, is out with a new TV ad using Donald Trump’s impending Supreme Court pick as a political weapon against the Democratic senator.
“The eyes of the nation are on Missouri: We decide which values control the Senate, and the Supreme Court,” Hawley says in the 30-second spot, released Monday. “Claire McCaskill wants liberals in charge, that’s how she votes. That’s not Missouri’s way, and it won’t be my way.”
McCaskill is one of 10 Senate Democrats up for re-election in states that went for Trump two years ago, and has long been seen as one of the most vulnerable members of the Senate. She is widely expected to vote against confirming Trump’s nominee, following her vote last year against Neil Gorsuch. It’s a risky gamble for McCaskill during an election year in a deep-red state, and one that some of her colleagues seem inclined to avoid. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana were the three Democrats to break with their party to vote to give Gorsuch the seat on the high court that the GOP held open during the final 10 months of Barack Obama’s presidency.
McCaskill has so far tread carefully ahead of Trump’s announcement. “Am I optimistic that he’s going to nominate somebody that I would feel comfortable about? No, I’m not,” she told Politico last week. Still, she added: “I really don’t want, now, to say: ‘Hey, I’m going to make up my mind just because it’s his nominee.”
It’s an awkward dance, but one that McCaskill has been doing for most of her two terms in the Senate. But it’s gotten more difficult under Trump, who won her state by 19 points over Hillary Clinton two years ago. The Senate GOP ran digital attack ads earlier this year linking McCaskill to a pair of remarks Clinton made about Trump voters: her “basket of deplorables” comments in 2016 and similar ones she made in March about Trump appealing to voters by “looking backwards.” McCaskill has resorted to defending Trump voters generally while still trying not to alienate her base of Clinton voters.
McCaskill has benefited from some good luck in her last two statewide campaigns, and it looked like she might be in line for another repeat after Hawley, a top Republican recruit this cycle, stumbled out of the gates. But Hawley is clearly hoping the Supreme Court fight will tilt the battleground in his favor. He graduated from Yale Law School and clerked for Chief Justice John Roberts before becoming state attorney general, making it far less likely he will commit the type of gaffe made by Todd Akin, who infamously declared in the final months of his losing 2012 campaign that victims of “legitimate rape” rarely become pregnant. Hawley, who is staunchly pro-life, framed the issue more diplomatically in his Supreme Court ad, speaking of “religious liberty” and the stakes of the court pick. “I know our way of life is at risk,” he tells the camera.