The Missouri Senate race this year has already been billed as one of the weakest spots for Democrats this cycle. Most analysts compiling lists of the Senate seats most likely to flip have it as a close call between Dean Heller and Claire McCaskill. But now that we’re moving into the heat of the primary season and November is drawing closer, Politico seems to see an opportunity for McCaskill to hang on for another six years. The logic here is a bit cloudy to be sure, but the main thrust of the argument centers on the possibility that the Republicans are preparing to once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill is up for reelection. And, like clockwork, the Republican Party of Missouri is in complete turmoil again.
McCaskill won a second term in 2012 when GOP Rep. Todd Akin’s campaign imploded in the wake of his comments about “legitimate rape.” Now, Republicans worry GOP Gov. Eric Greitens’ mounting scandals will inundate McCaskill’s likely Republican opponent, state Attorney General Josh Hawley, and bestow another term on one of the most endangered incumbent senators in the country.
Greitens was indicted in February for allegedly taking a nonconsensual nude photograph of a former lover, and the woman testified under oath that Greitens had a forced sexual encounter with her. As if that weren’t bad enough for the GOP, Greitens is refusing to step down, thrusting two of the most prominent Republican elected officials in the state into open warfare.
If you don’t peer too deeply into the details you can almost see how this would make sense. McCaskill was widely expected to lose her seat in 2012 and that was during a presidential election year with Obama on the ballot and liberal turnout at its highest. But Todd Akin turned out to be a disaster of a candidate. Even with all that help, McCaskill still didn’t clear the 50% bar by all that much. Now we’re in a midterm cycle which typically bodes better for Republicans. There’s definitely a lot of anti-Trump sentiment roiling the bluer parts of the nation, but the President is still above water among Missouri voters and Trump beat Hillary Clinton there by more than 18 points.
How badly will the Missouri GOP need to mess up in order to lose to McCaskill again? Politico is focusing on the scandals involving Governor Eric Greitens and his alleged propensity for taking naughty pictures of women without asking permission. He’s definitely in trouble, but the most likely GOP candidate for McCaskill’s seat is currently Republican state Attorney General Josh Hawley. Rather than providing cover for Greitens, he called for him to step down and launched an investigation into the Governor’s campaign fundraising (leading to yet another scandal). Things between the two of them have gotten so bad that the Governor has sought a restraining order against his own Attorney General.
So how precisely does this add up to Greitens’ scandals poisoning the well for Hawley? If anything, you might imagine that the public would give him higher marks for trying to clean up the swamp in their state. I’ll grant Politico the possibility that one GOP member in the midst of a scandal can tarnish the entire brand to a degree and a falling tide lowers all boats, etc. But if you’re the Republican trying to clean up the mess don’t you get some credit for that? Also, let’s keep in mind that the state still carries a double digit buffer for the GOP on the generic ballot.
I’m not ruling out the possibility that McCaskill might pull off another win. After all, incumbency does carry numerous advantages. But you can only pull the same rabbit out of the hat so many times. Unless Hawley has some huge skeletons in his closet which the oppo research has yet to set free, I’m still putting my money on him for now.