Republicans and Democrats are focusing a lot of attention on seven Missouri counties that some say will be pivotal in the U.S. Senate race between Attorney General Josh Hawley and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.
The two parties consider Jefferson County, which is adjacent to St. Louis’ suburbs, as a key in the closely-watched race, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported .
There’s “no county more important in this entire state than the one we are sitting in right now,” Republican Senate candidate Josh Hawley told supporters Monday in Imperial, in northern Jefferson County. “This county is key. As goes this county, so goes this state. And I’m telling you right now: So goes this state, so goes this nation.”
Voters in Jefferson County and six surrounding counties — Washington, Franklin, Iron, Reynolds, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve and Shannon — tend to be socially conservative but receptive to Democrats’ support of unions and other basic economic issues. With President Trump receiving large amount of grass-roots union support, that could throw a wrench into democrat’s plans.
McCaskill, won all of the counties six years ago and every one except Franklin in 2006. The incumbent senator, though, has lost much of her support in this year’s elections.
“I think it (the region) is essential for her re-election, and if he’s got a hope to take her out, he’s got to win these areas that can be 60 percent Democrat or 60 percent Republican,” said Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, adding: “Claire’s got a much better ground game, and unless he picks it up, he’s going to have a difficult time just winning it by doing TV ads.”
McCaskill won Jefferson County by 10 percentage points in 2006 and by 14 percentage points in 2012, in a race where she was helped by mistakes made by her Republican opponent, Todd Akin. Republican Mitt Romney won the county in 2012 and President Donald Trump took nearly two-thirds of the county vote in 2016. However, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican, garnered only about 50 percent of the county’s vote in 2016.
Dave Robertson, political scientist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said Trump winning two-thirds of the vote “has to be of great concern” to McCaskill, “who needs to have votes in Jefferson County.”
Blunt’s winning only 50 percent in Jefferson County in 2016 indicates the county’s voters assess each race independently, said Stephen Webber, chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party.
“In an area where everybody votes all one ticket or all the other, the question is, ‘How many people show up to vote?'” Webber said. “In an area like Jefferson County, where people go back and forth between Democrat and Republican, there’s just a lot of opportunity for persuasion.”
That may be tough this year. McCaskill, after years of voting with extreme liberals in Washington but campaigning as a moderate back home, may have met her match in the young and enthusiastic Hawley who had no political experience prior to 2016.
The popular Attorney General has brought numerous high profile cases against Google and others and voters see him as “squeaky clean.” McCaskill, on the other hand, continues to defend herself and her husband against investigations by the state’s largest newspapers concerning fraud in her and her husband’s numerous lucrative businesses.