ST. LOUIS — In the final hours of campaigning before polls open Tuesday morning, U.S. Senate candidate Josh Hawley sought to cast his opponent, Sen. Claire McCaskill, as an out-of-touch coastal liberal elite who has more in common with Hillary Clinton than she does with Missourians.
“The more I listen to Claire McCaskill, the more I’m reminded of Hillary,” Hawley told supporters who squeezed inside a small field office in St. Louis Monday afternoon. “Just like Hillary,” he said, and soon, the crowd was chanting.
McCaskill, a veteran politician seeking a third term, and Hawley, Missouri’s young Republican attorney general, are locked in a tight Senate race. A NBC News/Marist poll released Monday finds McCaskill leading by three percentage points, which falls within the margin of error.
As a vulnerable Democrat running for reelection in a state that President Trump won by 19 percentage points, McCaskill has sought to cast herself as a moderate who also supports securing the border. She has also distanced herself from the liberal members of her party and decried as “crazy Democrats” protesters who publicly confronted Republican figures.
Hawley mocked McCaskill’s efforts to lean a bit to the right in the final stretch of the campaign and slammed her for voting against the confirmation of Trump’s two Supreme Court nominees, Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett. M. Kavanaugh. He has fully embraced the president and his policies on trade, immigration and health care. Inside the field office where Hawley spoke, Trump is everywhere — on caps, stickers, T-shirts and banners bigger than those of the candidates.
“Tomorrow it’s all going to come down to Missouri. Tomorrow, control of the U.S. Senate may well come down to the state of Missouri,” Hawley said.
Missouri is among the battleground states that will determine if Democrats can win a conservative state in the era of Trump, and whether a moderate can still win over voters at a time of hyperpartisanship. Seeking the middle ground has been the campaign theme of vulnerable Democrats locked in tight races in states that Trump won handily. For example, Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) told The Washington Post: “I don’t serve as a Democrat senator or a Republican senator. I serve everybody in our state.”
Hawley appeared with other Republican officials, including Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, and Rep. Ann Wagner, who’s also running for reelection in Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District. After Hawley spoke, the group headed toward Cape Girardeau in southeastern Missouri, where Trump is scheduled to hold a rally — his second in the state this past week.