Schmitt Clears Way for Hawley in Mo. Senate Race
Missouri Treasurer Eric Schmitt will not enter the Republican primary to challenge Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, he plans to announce Tuesday — a decision that likely clears a path for state Attorney General Josh Hawley to pursue his party’s nomination in the race.
“I believe it is time for all of us to unite behind one candidate to be the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, which is why I am supporting Attorney General Josh Hawley,” Schmitt will say in a statement, obtained by RealClearPolitics. “I am encouraging Josh to run for the U.S. Senate and have offered to help his campaign in any way I can if he chooses to challenge Claire McCaskill.”
Reacting to Schmitt’s decision, former Sen. Jim Talent praised him as “a brilliant conservative who will have a tremendous impact for good in public service.”
"This act of statesmanship will unify the Party and benefit all the people of Missouri,” Talent said in a statement.
Hawley, 37, took a key step toward entering the race earlier this month when he formed an exploratory committee, enabling him to raise money for a potential Senate bid. He has been aggressively recruited by national party leaders, including Vice President Mike Pence, who called Hawley last month to urge him to run.
“There is zero chance that anybody else would be our nominee if Josh indeed runs,” former U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth told the Kansas City Star earlier this month. “The support for him is so strong and so broad across the spectrum of Republicans in our state that nobody would have any reasonable chance of winning.”
Other would-be Republican candidates have taken the hint. Rep. Ann Wagner, who was thought to be eyeing a Senate bid, announced early last month that she would instead run for re-election to the House.
But Schmitt, 42, was waiting to see what Hawley (pictured, with Sen. Roy Blunt) would decide — and began to lay the groundwork for a potential campaign in the meantime. Schmitt met in Washington, D.C., last month with Republican officials, including Sen. Cory Gardner, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Even as Hawley received the lion’s share of national attention, Schmitt had a compelling case to make to NRSC officials, having won a statewide race by a commanding margin and proving to be an adept fundraiser in the process.
Still, few Republicans expected that Schmitt and Hawley would both run, with the party hoping to prevent a sequel of its abysmal showing in McCaskill’s 2012 re-election. In that race, a messy GOP primary produced Rep. Todd Akin as the nominee, who memorably sent his candidacy into a tailspin when he claimed women could not become pregnant from “legitimate rape.”
Now, with another opportunity to defeat the two-term incumbent next year, Republicans aren’t taking any chances.
“State and national Republicans are laser-focused on making sure this race does not slip through their fingers again,” Brian Walsh, a former NRSC communications director, told RCP at last month.
At the center of their efforts now is Hawley, a Yale Law School graduate and former Supreme Court clerk who won elective office for the first time as attorney general last year. In his campaign, Hawley decried the “career politicians” in Missouri “just climbing the ladder, using one office to get another,” he said in a slickly produced ad.
McCaskill’s campaign has joked that Hawley “must want to set some kind of record” by now considering a Senate bid, not even one year later.
“That’s exactly what Missourians can’t stand about politics — it represents the worst kind of politician, and calls into question what other promises Josh Hawley will break,” David Kirby, McCaskill’s campaign manager, said in a statement earlier this month.
But Republicans believe McCaskill is among the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents on the map in 2018, with Trump having won Missouri by nearly 20 points last year.
“Missouri will be at the center of the debate as national liberal Democrats and Bernie Sanders progressives spend tens of millions of dollars to keep liberal-Claire McCaskill in office,” Schmitt will say in his statement Tuesday. “With stakes this high, it's imperative that Missouri Republicans unite. I believe the candidate positioned to unite us is Josh Hawley.”