Hawley and McCaskill set for November collision course; Clay easily beats Bush | St. Louis Public Radio

Hawley and McCaskill set for November collision course; Clay easily beats Bush

Aug 8, 2018

GOP Attorney General Josh Hawley and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill easily won their respective Missouri primaries on Tuesday, setting up a Senate showdown in November that will gain national attention.

And voters in St. Louis-area congressional districts decided to keep U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay in office — and selected Cort VanOstran to square off against GOP Congresswoman Ann Wagner.

Hawley ended up defeating 10 other candidates in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. He’ll face McCaskill, a two-term senator who easily won her primary against six opponents.

“The hardworking people of our state voted in favor of conservative judges, middle-class tax cuts, more jobs, secure borders,” Hawley said. “Claire McCaskill didn’t listen then, and she refuses to listen now. This fall, we have another chance to make our voices heard – and send her home for good.”

For the most part, Hawley was the frontrunner in the GOP primary from the moment Wagner, R-Ballwin, decided to run for another term in the U.S. House. He received backing from President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and many key agricultural and political groups active in the state’s GOP politics.

Only two other candidates, Austin Petersen and Tony Monetti, raised more than $200,000. But that wasn’t enough to meet Hawley’s direct and third-party financial support.

The McCaskill-Hawley race will almost certainly be one of the most expensive and contentious Senate contests in the nation this year. Third-party groups have already poured millions of dollars to attack both candidates, while McCaskill and Hawley have been sparring with each other for months.

Hawley is banking that Missouri voters are still where they were in 2016, when President Donald Trump won the state by nearly 19 percentage points. And since McCaskill ran for the Senate in 2006, much of rural Missouri, including parts of the state that traditionally supported Democrats, has become bright red.

McCaskill has been barnstorming the state for months, including in rural counties that heavily gravitated toward Trump in 2016. She’s banking on a more favorable national environment for Democratic candidates, especially if Trump’s national and Missouri approval ratings dip. 

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill answers a question from Missouri state Rep. Michael Butler in January.
Credit File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Soon after Hawley was declared the winner, McCaskill challenged Hawley to a series of debates.

"As a U.S. senator it is my job to hold myself accountable to all Missourians," wrote McCaskill in a letter to Hawley’s campaign. "That's why I've held public town halls with Missourians throughout my time as senator — including more than 50 across the state since 2017 ... Missourians deserve the same chance to ask you questions and hear your answers as they have consistently had with me."

Hawley has also said he wants to debate McCaskill.

Clay holds off Bush

In many respects, the U.S. Senate primaries were low-profile compared to two Democratic contests for St. Louis-based congressional seats.

U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay will almost certainly serve 10th term in the House of Representatives.
Credit Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

In the 1st Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay easily held off a challenge for re-election from fellow Democrat Cori Bush.

Either Clay, D-University City, or his father have represented the St. Louis and St. Louis County-based district since the 1960s. But left-of-center activists gravitated to Bush’s campaign, which had the support of New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

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Some were hoping Bush could emulate Ocasio-Cortez’s defeat of longtime incumbent Congressman Joseph Crawley. But Clay’s political organization is widely revered throughout the St. Louis region — and it had more money to spend in the run up to Tuesday’s primary.

Clay and Bush agreed on most key issues, including expanding Medicare to the general public and opposing Trump’s immigration policies. Some of Bush’s allies pointed to Clay’s decision to accept money from political action committees as a reason to oppose his re-election. Clay contended that amounted to a “litmus test” from left-of-center activists, adding that individual workers or union members contribute to PACs.

Because the 1st District is heavily Democratic, Clay is favored to win in November. By the time he finishes his next term, he will have served 20 years in the U.S. House.

Wagner challenger picked

Meanwhile, voters in the 2nd Congressional District picked Cort VanOstran to square off against Wagner.

Cort VanOstran
Credit Cort VanOstran

Five Democrats signed up to run in the district that takes in parts of St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson counties. Wagner’s elections in the GOP-leaning district have been largely uneventful, but groups like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have been criticizing her for months.

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The two leading contenders for the seat were VanOstran and Mark Osmack, who both raised significant amounts of money — and received high-level endorsements. St. Louis Board of Education member Bill Haas also was a threat, as he won the 2nd District Democratic primary in 2008.

VanOstran won handily with about 41 percent of the vote, while Osmack and Haas received 24 and 19 percent respectively.

Democrats are banking on suburban voters gravitating away from Republicans — especially with Trump in office. But the 2nd District includes suburbs that tend to back candidates who oppose abortion rights and firearms restrictions. VanOstran has touted support from abortion rights and gun control groups.

What happens in the 2nd Congressional District could have a major impact on the U.S. Senate race, as increased Democratic turnout in that area could end up helping McCaskill’s re-election bid.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum