It’s been five months since Missouri’s attorney general, Josh Hawley, announced in a video that he was challenging Democrat Claire McCaskill for her U.S. Senate seat.
On Tuesday, Hawley took aim at McCaskill's tenure and political leanings in a populist stump speech during his first public rally for the Senate.
“The people of Missouri are going to demand better this November. And all that adds up to one thing: Claire McCaskill has got to go. Claire McCaskill represents everything that’s gone wrong in Washington. She is the face of Washington’s failure. She’s been in politics for a lifetime, almost four decades ... promising to be independent and to side with the middle class," he said.
"Well you know how that worked out. Anyway you cut it, she’s been a partisan liberal Democrat,” he said.
Hawley's statewide tour began at Dynamic Fastener in Raytown and was scheduled to take him to Springfield and St. Louis.
Today marks the beginning of my campaign to take back Missouri’s U.S. Senate seat for the people of Missouri. I’m going to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of Missouri in the cause of liberty. #HawleyForSenate #MOSen— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) March 13, 2018
Since Hawley’s October announcement, Missouri’s political climate has been in turmoil — to the point that Hawley’s campaign told the Kansas City Star that Republican Gov. Eric Greitens (also relatively new to office) probably won’t stump for the attorney general, due to the governor's indictment for felony invasion of privacy and a legislative inquiry that could lead to his impeachment.
On top of that, Hawley’s office is looking into a nonprofit for military veterans that Greitens started before his run for governor.
Hawley didn't mention Greitens in his speech. Afterwards, however, he was asked to address his investigation into the use a secretive app to conduct some business in the governor's office. Earlier this month, Hawley issued a report saying there was no evidence of wrongdoing in part because the messages were deleted after they were read.
“We conducted a months-long investigation, we talked to all of the senior staff in the governor’s office who were relevant to the inquiry, sat down with the director of public safety, and we looked at all the evidence available to us," Hawley said.
"This is why we have said the attorney general’s office needs to have subpoena power to enforce the sunshine law, we need to have stiffer penalties. Because, the report says what it says. We looked at all the evidence available, but there’s only so much evidence available, and that’s just the nature of the situation."
During the speech, Hawley mentioned his hometown of Lexington, near Kansas City, saying the people there "knew that dignity doesn't come from money. It comes from character."
The comment stood in contrast to Hawley's scheduled fundraiser with President Donald Trump on Wednesday, which costs $5,000 to attend. When reporters asked how he squared his negative remarks about McCaskill's fundraising ability, Hawley said: "Well, I don't think there's any disconnect between raising the resources necessary to get our message out. Again, we are delighted to have the support of President Trump."
Trump won Missouri with 56 percent of the vote in 2016, but a GOP legislative seat swung Democrat in February’s special election. While that doesn’t necessarily spell trouble for Hawley’s Senate bid, the race for McCaskill’s seat is expected to be competitive, and Hawley isn’t a shoo-in; St. Louis Public Radio reports he faces at least 9 other GOP candidates in August’s primary.
McCaskill, who is running for a third Senate term, said in October that Hawley “has spent more time talking to the insiders in Washington” than to Missouri residents. Outside of the rally, about 20 Democrats gathered with signs with slogans such as "Hawley and Greitens: Two peas in a pod" and "Money speaks and Hawley listens."
Brooke Goren, the deputy communications director for the Missouri Democratic Party, said their protest was due to the fact that when Hawley ran for attorney general in 2016, he has failed to live up to his campaign promise of getting rid of corruption in Jefferson City.
"We've really seen him do the opposite," she said, adding later that Hawley is "protecting his friends and allies."
But the populist tone didn't bother Dorothy Tackett, a school bus driver who lives near Polo and came to the rally. She said she backs Hawley due to his anti-abortion stance, his pledge to "getting the corruption out of Washington" and what she sees is the possibility that he'll "get this country going the way it used to be going."
Tackett also said that, as a bus driver, she frequently sees the results of the opioid crisis.
"I see that amongst schoolkids and it's sad to see some of the problems," she said.
Both McCaskill and Hawley are trying to tackle the crisis by looking to cut down on the number of pain medications being prescribed. Hawley also has used the powers of his office to sue three opioid manufacturers.
Erica Hunzinger is the editor of Harvest Public Media and a contributor to KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @ehunzinger