Josh Hawley Now Leads Claire McCaskill in Missouri Senate Race

New polling shows Missouri Republican Senate candidate Josh Hawley with a slight lead over Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill in what promises to be one of the country’s tightest and most consequential races.

The new head-to-head survey, which was conducted last week by GOP pollster Remington Research, shows Hawley two points up on McCaskill, 48-46. The poll provides the first glimpse into Missouri voters’ thinking on the race since Republican governor Eric Greitens resigned in May over allegations of sexual misconduct and violations of campaign finance law, bringing an abrupt end to a months-long scandal that was widely seen as a drag on Hawley’s electoral chances.

Hawley, the state’s attorney general, has portrayed McCaskill as an out-of-touch leftist who reflexively opposes President Donald Trump’s agenda and has more in common with coastal elites than with her own Missouri constituents. McCaskill responded with authenticity-based arguments of her own, mocking the Yale-educated Hawley’s “fancy law school” pedigree.

During the early months of 2018, the political dynamics surrounding the Senate race all seemed to be breaking McCaskill’s way: as the state’s attorney general, Hawley was charged with directing the Greitens investigations, which opened him up to criticism both from Democrats (for supposedly giving the governor a free pass) and from the governor’s allies (for supposedly knifing a fellow Republican). McCaskill and her allies leaned hard on that pressure point, with one super PAC running ads speculating that Hawley was “bought and paid for” by Greitens.

But the governor’s resignation in May, and the relatively smooth transition to new governor Mike Parson, meant Hawley has been able to put that scandal in the rear-view mirror and focus attention on the incumbent. Meanwhile, Hawley caught a break with Justice Anthony Kennedy announcing his retirement and Trump nominating Brett Kavanaugh to replace him on the Supreme Court. McCaskill now has to make a choice: vote for Kavanaugh and risk the wrath of her Democratic base or vote against him and take her chances in a state that Trump won by nearly 20 points. (If you want a clue as to which direction McCaskill is like to go, in 2017, she voted against Neil Gorsuch.)

The Remington poll is the first since January to show a Hawley lead and THE WEEKLY STANDARD’S SwingSeat model still has McCaskill as the overall favorite. But state Republicans are hoping to see their candidate pick up more ground as he raises his public profile and McCaskill tries to navigate the Kavanaugh confirmation. GOP strategist Gregg Keller pointed out that the latest polling numbers don’t yet reflect the Supreme Court issue’s effect on voters, and that Hawley will likely capitalize on that to pull ahead in the months to come.

“This poll was done before Claire McCaskill is going to run the gauntlet of three months of Missouri voters and the Missouri political press focused on her inevitable vote against a qualified, mainstream Supreme Court nominee in Brett Kavanaugh,” Keller told THE WEEKLY STANDARD. “And I think every political observer knows that what McCaskill is doing now is pretending to consider the nomination closely, but at the end of the day she is going to do whatever Planned Parenthood and NARAL want her to do.”

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