In a major blow to Senate Democrats, Sen. Claire McCaskill has lost her reelection race in Missouri to Republican Josh Hawley.
McCaskill, a moderate Democrat and skilled navigator of the state’s politics, was long considered one of the most endangered red-state Democrats up for reelection in a state Donald Trump won resoundingly in 2016. That was never anything new for McCaskill, who had faced tough races in the past.
She famously helped engineer the outcome of her 2012 election, with her campaign spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to help boost ultraconservative Republican Todd Akin to win the Republican primary for Senate. McCaskill wanted to face off against Akin, who later said that during “legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” She went on to win that race by 12 points.
But this time around, Republicans were more careful; Hawley was no Todd Akin. And McCaskill’s approval ratings were struggling — 37 percent of voters approved of her, compared to 48 percent disapproval, per an October Morning Consult poll.
The young attorney general of Missouri was far less scandal-ridden than Akin. Democrats still tried to hit him for attempting to claim he would protect preexisting conditions while adding his name to a multi-state lawsuit that would have destroyed protections and undone much of the law.
Hawley is right about one thing: Democrats in red states are betting big that supporting preexisting conditions — and pointing out that the Republican health care plans would roll back their protections — can carry them to an unlikely November victory.
For years, McCaskill has tried to embody Missouri’s independent ethos. She’s “smack-dab in the middle” between a Democrat and Republican, one former aide told Vox.
Still, she mostly stuck with Democrats in Washington this year. She was part of a group of red-state Democrats who voted against the GOP’s massive tax cuts last year, upset with the lack of Republican outreach to conservative Democrats on the bill. She also voted against the repeal of Obamacare, and against both of President Trump’s nominees to the US Supreme Court — Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. And she called for gun control measures to be implemented after the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and has an F rating from the National Rifle Association.
McCaskill also may have hit a snag with Missouri’s communities of color. Months ago, the discontent some African-American voters have been feeling toward her over the lack of her presence in their neighborhoods bubbled over into public view at a town hall with state Rep. Bruce Franks Jr., a Democrat from St. Louis.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus on Capitol Hill and the former mayor of Kansas City, told Vox he didn’t think McCaskill would suffer irreparable damage from the frustrations of activists, but he agreed she does need to do more in the state’s urban communities.
“Missouri is an interesting place; it’s really a place where you have to ‘show me,’” Cleaver said, nodding to the state’s nickname. “It’s the state motto, but politics is real. I think people want to see her.”
Ultimately, it wasn’t enough to save McCaskill.