Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley would be a formidable opponent if he chooses to run for Senate against Claire McCaskill, Steve Kraske writes. John Sleezer jsleezer@kcstar.com
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley would be a formidable opponent if he chooses to run for Senate against Claire McCaskill, Steve Kraske writes. John Sleezer jsleezer@kcstar.com

Steve Kraske

Steve Kraske: Sen. Claire McCaskill’s biggest nightmare just might be Josh Hawley

By Steve Kraske

skraske@kcstar.com

July 06, 2017 08:30 PM

UPDATED July 07, 2017 11:01 AM

In Missouri these days, it’s Josh Hawley time.

It seems that everybody — at least when it comes to Republican insiders — is talking about the newly minted attorney general, a conservative who just might turn around and run for U.S. Senate next year.

Question 1 is: Will he do it? Question 2 is: Should he do it, given his just-elected status? And Question 3 is: Can he beat Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill?

Allow me to short-hand this for you: The answer to all three questions, based on soundings from around the state, is a fairly solid yes.

Never miss a local story.

Sign up today for a free 30 day free trial of unlimited digital access.

The godfather of the modern-day Missouri Republican Party, Jack Danforth, gushes about the one-time MU law professor as a “once-in-a-generation” talent. He compares Hawley’s intellectual capacity to one of the Senate’s giants, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was a Democrat, no less.

Sam Fox, the St. Louis businessman who has funded many a Republican campaign, mailed a letter to GOP donors last week imploring them to hold their money until Hawley decides.

The result of all this hype has been dramatic. Ann Wagner, the congresswoman from the St. Louis area groomed as the antidote to McCaskill, suddenly backed out of the race this week, saying she intends to seek re-election.

This was a jaw-dropper. Wagner, a former ambassador and co-chair of the Republican National Committee, has deep ties to the Bush family and Sen. Roy Blunt. Few other Republicans have the capacity to raise oodles from well-heeled GOP loyalists.

Whether it was fear of Hawley or family considerations doesn’t matter. Wagner is out, and that widens the opening for Hawley.

For his part, Hawley is playing it cool, saying what potential candidates always say: He’s focused on his current job. Other Republicans, including Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler of Harrisonville, are said to be interested in the Senate, too. But as the summer rolls on, it increasingly appears that the rocket beneath Hawley is lit. He’s expected to run.

There are lessons here:

▪ Political rules continue to evolve. In a pre-Donald Trump world, candidates didn’t run and win one statewide office, then turn around the next year and run for another. Not anymore. In the Trump world, anything goes, though Democrats would seize on the move.

▪ The Missouri GOP is killing it when it comes to cultivating bright, young talent such as Hawley, state treasurer Eric Schmitt, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and, of course, Gov. Eric Greitens, who also is said to be interested in the Senate seat.

▪ Given Danforth’s blessing, it’s safe to assume that Hawley is no Todd Akin, the former congressman once favored to defeat McCaskill in 2012 until he yapped about “legitimate rape.” On several levels, Hawley, 37, is just plain impressive.

That means trouble for McCaskill, who has been lucky and has made her own luck since winning a Senate seat in 2006. That was a big Democratic wave election. In 2012, Akin handed her a gift. In 2018, her ace in the hole is Trump himself and his wavering political standing. The president carried Missouri by 19 points last year but surely couldn’t do that today.

McCaskill has experience and hustle going for her, as well as Trump’s escapades. And she’s going to need it all to win a third term, especially if her opponent is Hawley. Right now, it feels like it’s his time.

The Star's editorial board Facebook Live with Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley

The Star’s editorial board members chatted with Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley about the opioid crisis and new abortion legislation during a Facebook Live show in June.

Shelly Yang, Colleen McCain Nelson and Steve Kraske The Kansas City Star