The Slatest

McCaskill Loses Big in a Senate Race Everyone Saw as a Squeaker

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) speaks with reporters as she leaves the polling station after voting on November 6, 2018 in Kirkwood, Missouri.
Sen. Claire McCaskill speaks with reporters as she leaves the polling station after voting on Tuesday in Kirkwood, Missouri. Scott Olson/Getty Images

And down goes another Senate Democrat. Sen. Claire McCaskill has conceded to Republican challenger Josh Hawley in Missouri. With roughly 80 percent of precincts reporting, the state attorney general led the incumbent by 13 percentage points, 55 percent to 42 percent. (Update, Nov. 7, 2018, at 1:50 a.m.: With 99 percent in, Hawley’s lead stands at a less impressive but still surprising 6 points.)

McCaskill was one of 10 Senate Democrats up for re-election in a state Trump won, and she becomes the third of that group to lose re-election, joining Sens. Joe Donnelly and Heidi Heitkamp on the Democratic casualty list. With those three losses, Democrats’ already narrow path to a Senate majority is essentially closed. They now need to flip five GOP seats from red to blue to gain a 51-seat majority in the upper chamber. That’s nearly impossible, considering they entered the night competitive in just five GOP seats, and already their dreams in two of them, Tennessee and Texas, are done.

The Missouri race was one of the tightest heading into Election Day, making Hawley’s margin of victory more than a little surprising. Eight of the 17 polls tracked by RealClearPolitics since the start of August found McCaskill and Hawley in a tie—not a within-the-margin-of-error statistical tie, mind you, but an actual, genuine, exact-same-number-for-each dead heat. Hawley entered the day up by a fraction of a percentage point in RCP’s running average, while McCaskill was a slight 4-in-7 favorite in FiveThirtyEight’s classic model.

McCaskill spent much of her campaign trying to put some distance between herself and her party—even after voting against Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation—in a state that went for Trump by 19 percentage points in 2016 after going for Mitt Romney by just shy of 10 in 2012. In a late radio ad, McCaskill dubbed herself “not one of those crazy Democrats,” and at a news conference on Monday, she once again tried to shrug off the national implications of her race, despite its potential to decide control of the upper chamber. “I don’t really see a huge difference in terms of the work of the Senate, whether it’s 51–49 Democrat or 51–49 Republican,” she said. “And I’ve been there both ways.”

McCaskill did, however, make defending Obamacare a pillar of her campaign even as she was keeping her party at arm’s length—a sign of just how much the political winds have shifted on the issue with Trump in office. It was an easy contrast with Hawley, who in his role as Missouri AG joined a GOP lawsuit that aims to dismantle Obamacare and many of the law’s protections for pre-existing conditions along with it.

Ultimately, though, that wasn’t enough against Hawley, a former clerk for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and a top GOP recruit this cycle. Young and polished, Hawley was a far cry from Todd “legitimate rape” Akin, whom McCaskill defeated in her last election.

Hawley openly embraced the president and his top priorities, including last year’s tax reform and the president’s beloved border wall. And he repeatedly branded McCaskill a “party-line liberal” who was out of step with a state that voted for Trump in a landslide. Even McCaskill couldn’t completely dispute the last part. “I know I cast votes a lot of Missourians disagree with,” she conceded during a debate last month. “I get that. … You’re not going to make everybody happy.” On Tuesday, that assessment proved prophetic.