New poll shows McCaskill really missing Todd Akin these days

Re-election campaigns get so much easier when you can pick your own opponent. Six years ago, Claire McCaskill survived by helping to ensure that Todd Akin won the GOP primary, after which he spectacularly and memorably self-destructed. This time, however, McCaskill faces a more formidable opponent in Josh Hawley, and a new poll from the Missouri Times shows Hawley edging into the lead:

Attorney General Josh Hawley leads incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill in this year’s race for the U.S. Senate, according to new polling.

A new survey, conducted by the Remington Research Group on behalf of The Missouri Times, shows that of 1,034 surveyed voters, 50 percent approve of President Donald Trump, while also showing that the Republican attorney general may have a slight competitive edge over the incumbent Democrat.

Two points to remember: It’s within the margin of error, and it’s the first poll showing Hawley with a lead. The RCP average on this race is McCaskill +1 with this poll in the mix. Hawley hasn’t had a lead since the first week of January in this series, so this might well be an outlier.

However, the poll sample is unusually large for a state race, which makes the data at least somewhat more reliable. Furthermore, it’s the first poll in the RCP tracking series since two months ago, which McCaskill led just outside the margin of error. Finally, even with all of those caveats, this poll puts McCaskill’s level of support where it has been all along — in the mid-40s. Even in the polls where McCaskill led, she did so with 42% or 45% of the sample. It’s a danger signal for incumbents when they can’t get to 50%, as undecideds usually break hard for the challenger in the final days of the contest.

How reliable is this result? It does have a very surprising result on an August ballot proposition establishing right-to-work prohibitions against closed shops. That looks to be going down to a big defeat, 38/56 with only six percent undecided. If this was skewed more to the GOP, Trump, and Hawley, one might expect to see right-to-work legislation get more support. Unfortunately, we don’t get access to crosstabs and sample data, so indirect inferences of reliability are all we get.

Still, this raises the stakes for McCaskill, especially when it comes to the confirmation vote on Brett Kavanaugh. If McCaskill chooses to vote no — and especially if she cooperates with obstructive tactics at Chuck Schumer’s direction — Hawley will have a field day in Missouri over it.