ST. LOUIS- Republican Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley will have to walk a tightrope between warring factions of the Republican party if he wants to unite the GOP and oust Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill from office in 2018.
Hawley, a 37 -year-old in his first year of elected office, released a video Tuesday morning officially announcing his candidacy, although he signaled his intent months ago. McCaskill is among 10 Senate Democrats running in countries won by Trump and is considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents.
Hawley’s earliest advocates include Missouri’s moderate former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, 81, a scion of the state Republican establishment and a strong critic of Trump.
So it raised eyebrows when The Kansas City Star reported last week that Hawley also spoke with Trump’s former White House strategist Steve Bannon, a nationalist firebrand who once declared that his news site, Breitbart, was “the platform for the alt-right.”
Bannon has vowed to destroy Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell by running insurgent candidates in Senate races across the country. Hawley doesn’t appear to neatly fit the rebel resume.
But so far, Missouri Republicans appear more worried about avoiding the mistakes of the past than their internal combats, in order to depose McCaskill.
Danforth told The Associated Press that Hawley’s communication with Bannon is “important for him to get elected.”
Ryan Johnson, the former president of the conservative advocacy group Missouri Alliance for Freedom, said Hawley has seems to have unified the party.
“When you have everybody from former Sen. John Danforth to conservative activist and strategist Steve Bannon supporting the man, he’s managed to pull off what many others have not, ” he said.
McCaskill, 64, is in her second word in the Senate, but Missouri voters have increasingly favored Republican in recent years. Just one Jefferson City statewide officeholder, Auditor Nicole Galloway, is a Democrat, and she was appointed to her seat.
McCaskill has admitted to meddling in the 2012 GOP primary and during her re-election bid succeeded in getting the challenger she considered the weakest, former U.S. Rep. Todd Akin. After he won the Republican primary, Akin told a TV interviewer that women’s bodies have ways of preventing pregnancy in situations of “legitimate rape, ” a comment that drew a national backlash. Akin lost the election badly.
“They want urgently to avoid that sort of failure again, and Hawley surely promises to be much more articulated and much less likely to step on land mines the way that Akin did, ” University of Missouri political scientist Peverill Squire said. “Every faction of the Republican Party looks at Hawley and sees what they want to see.”
Hawley’s best known public posture was his work to prepare a case in which the U.S. Supreme court ruled that the private company Hobby Lobby could quote religious objections to opt out of contraceptive coverage under President Barack Obama’s health care law. Conservatives praised the ruling as a huge victory for religion rights, while progressives said it would be facilitated private companies to force-out their employees to follow the religious beliefs of the owners. But Hawley was among many lawyers who worked on the case.
Hawley also was an associate professor at the University of Missouri School of Law and campaigned for limited government and religious liberties. Since his January inauguration to attorney general, he has focused on issues including trafficking in human beings and opioid misuse.
As a nation officeholder and relatively new candidate for U.S. Senate, he hasn’t yet taken many public postures on national issues. Squire said he’s still “malleable” and has an opportunity to brand himself as he tries to shore up the Republican base before the 2018 primary.
Hawley spokesman Scott Paradise said voters across the political spectrum are behind ousting McCaskill.
“Attorney General Hawley appreciates the supporting he gets from Republicans of all stripes – and Democrats and Independents too, ” he said.
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