Can the GOP Gain Seats in States Trump Won? Preliminary Analysis of Claire McCaskill by Luke Perry
This series examines 10 Democratic Senators who are up for election in states Donald Trump won. Thus far, we’ve analyzed Senators Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Manchin (WV), Bob Casey (PA), and Sherrod Brown (OH). This piece examines Claire McCaskill, who is up for reelection in Missouri, a state that Donald Trump won by nearly 20 points in 2016.
McCaskill was elected to the Senate in 2006 after serving in state government for over two decades. McCaskill defeated Republican incumbent Jim Talent by 3 points in 2006 and was then reelected by 15 points in 2012. 2006 was the last midterm dominated by Democrats and the party picked up 8 House seats in 2012, though the GOP retained its control, and added one seat to the Democratic majority in the Senate.
Analysts believe that Senator McCaskill caught a break when Representative Ann Wagner passed on challenging her. Wagner was considered a top recruit having name recognition in the most populous region of the state, as representative from the St. Louis suburbs, and strong connections with the Bush family and the Republican National Committee.
As of this spring, Senator McCaskill had a 48 percent approval rating. Her disapproval rating, 38 percent, was the ninth highest in the Senate. 15 percent of voters were undecided. Trump’s approval rating in Missouri is 49 percent, virtually even, considering polling margins of error.
McCaskill has undertaken a remarkable town hall tour that involves conducting 25 town hall meetings throughout her state this month alone. McCaskill appears to have benefited from her position on healthcare being supported by many people who have turned out for the town halls.
McCaskill’s critics have derided her as being too liberal and mistakenly claiming to have never met the Russian ambassador, when in fact she did twice. McCaskill has actively sought to engage people in town halls, even in more conservative parts of the state, to “show respect” for those who don’t agree with her.
Senator McCaskill has not widely supported President Trump, voting in line with his views 43 percent of the time. Last week McCaskill called for a Democratic state senator from Missouri to resign after posting on Facebook that she hoped Trump would be assassinated.
David Robertson, Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, believes that Attorney General Josh Hawley would be a strong candidate like Wagner. Hawley is relatively young, has won a statewide election before, and is believed to be able to raise lots of money.
Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball identifies the Missouri Senate race as one of four toss ups. The Cook Political Report identifies it as one of three. There is little doubt this will remain a close race whomever becomes the GOP nominee. McCaskill has a small edge with her popularity keeping pace with the president's and her uniquely ambitious efforts to connect with constituents, particularly in rural Missouri.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College.