JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley achieved a long-sought GOP victory in unseating Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill on Tuesday, strengthening Republican control of the state and delivering a win for President Donald Trump.
Trump, who won Missouri by nearly 19 percentage points in 2016, personally campaigned for Hawley twice in the week before Election Day, and Hawley ran as a strong ally of the president. He also relentlessly attacked McCaskill as too liberal to represent the increasingly conservative state.
“What the people of Missouri said tonight is that they want a senator who actually stands with the people of Missouri, who represents our values and represents our voice and will fight for us in Washington, D.C.,” Hawley said during a victory speech in Springfield. “And I will.”
He pledged as the state’s next senator to fight to secure the border with Mexico, advocate for “pro-Constitution” judges, “bring back jobs from overseas to get wages growing,” and stand up for farmers and small businessmen.
McCaskill’s defeat leaves Auditor Nicole Galloway as the lone Democratic statewide officeholder in the state. She was appointed to her seat and won election Tuesday.
Republican U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner also eked out a victory against a Democratic challenger in the St. Louis suburbs, where support for Trump was more tepid.
Missouri voters approved ballot measures to allow medical marijuana, gradually raise the minimum wage from the current $7.85 an hour to $12 an hour and change redistricting. But they denied a gas tax hike to help fix roads and bridges.
Republicans had long eyed McCaskill’s seat as a prime pickup opportunity, but McCaskill survived near-political death before even as the state began trending increasingly red.
She embarrassed Republicans in 2012 when she used what she called “reverse psychology” by running ads in the Republican primary decrying the conservative resume of the weakest candidate, former Rep. Todd Akin. He won and went on to lose to McCaskill in the general election after saying women’s bodies can prevent pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.”
Determined not to let her outfox them again, GOP heavyweights this election plucked the Ivy-league educated Hawley and cleared the field for him.
Unlike Akin, Hawley was less prone to political gaffes. He threw his support behind Trump’s policies, while avoiding using or reacting to the president’s incendiary rhetoric.
Hawley was the only statewide candidate in Missouri to receive more votes than Trump in 2016, when he won his bid for attorney general.
McCaskill during a Tuesday speech to supporters gathered in St. Louis thanked voters for allowing her to serve a long political career. She joked that her mouth sometimes caused her trouble but said she actually tried to be careful about what she said.
“Not anymore,” she said with a smile. “I will be out here fighting with you. I am not going away. I love this state and will continue to serve.”
McCaskill presented herself as a moderate during more than 50 town halls held in Republican strongholds, noting that she voted with Trump nearly half the time in the Senate.
“He is Trump’s guy, and I am not anybody except Missouri’s guy, or gal, I guess,” McCaskill said during a Monday campaign stop in Columbia.
Hawley dismissed McCaskill’s claim to be a moderate, hammering her on Senate votes against both of Trump’s Supreme Court picks, his federal tax overhaul and other priorities.
He launched an ad criticizing the Democrats’ handling of sexual misconduct allegations against Trump’s Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh, making the Missouri race a barometer of the “Kavanaugh effect”- whether GOP voters would be more likely to vote after the attacks on the justice.
Columbia Republican Jimmy Reed, 67, said Trump’s endorsement of Hawley motivated him to go to the polls Tuesday. He said the president deserves a chance to get things done, and he needs a Republican majority in Congress to do that, so he voted for Hawley.
“She may be somewhat moderate, but she’s still a Democrat against the other side right now,” Reed said of McCaskill.
Democrats had accused Hawley of going easy as attorney general on former Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, who faced multiple political and personal scandals after media reported details about Greitens’ extramarital affair in 2015 and his use of a charity donor list for his gubernatorial campaign.
That criticism of Hawley faded after Greitens stepped down in June.
Associated Press writers Jim Salter in Chesterfield, Missouri, and Margaret Stafford in Kansas City, Missouri contributed to this report.
For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics