With Breitbart's Praise, Missouri AG Enters U.S. Senate Race

by | October 10, 2017

By Bryan Lowry

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is done exploring.

In a campaign video Tuesday, the top Republican recruit for the race that could decide control of the U.S. Senate officially announced his intention to challenge Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill in 2018.

"This isn't something we were planning to do. But we believe we have to do all we can to win a better future for our country," Hawley says in the video as he's joined by his wife, Erin, and two sons.

Hawley's announcement, however, was hardly spontaneous. It comes after a more than two-month exploratory campaign and an even longer period of encouragement by prominent Republicans, including former U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth and Vice President Mike Pence.

The official announcement also comes shortly after The Star reported that Hawley had been reaching out to former White House strategist Steve Bannon amid speculation that Bannon, executive chairman of the conservative website Breitbart, may back another candidate.

Bannon's site praised Hawley in a Sunday article, calling him a "hardcore conservative who will not go along to get along like (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell wants in Washington."

Hawley has faced criticism from some prominent Missouri conservatives, including former state Republican chair Ed Martin, for his connection to Danforth, who called on Republicans to cut ties with President Donald Trump in a nationally published opinion piece in August. Hawley skipped the president's visit to Missouri later that month for a previously scheduled family vacation.

Democrats have questioned the idea that Hawley was exploring a bid rather than campaigning when he formed his campaign committee in August. Hawley formed a joint fundraising committee with the National Republican Senatorial Committee last month.

"As Josh Hawley continues to lie to Missourians about his campaign for United States Senate, he has teamed up with the NRSC to let other candidates know that they will not have the support of the DC establishment -- regardless of what Missouri voters think," Meira Bernstein, the spokeswoman of the Missouri Democratic Party, said last week.

Hawley, 37, is a former professor at the University of Missouri School of Law. He was elected last year to his first term as attorney general by a 17-point margin.

During his short time in office, Hawley has filed a lawsuit against three of the country's largest opioid manufacturers and launched an initiative meant to combat human trafficking.

Both of those are pet issues for McCaskill, who is heading up an opioid investigation in the Senate and has been an outspoken proponent for federal legislation to curb human trafficking.

Timmy Teepell, Hawley's senior adviser, said in a statement that Hawley's focus would remain on his duties as attorney general rather than the race, which promises to be one of the most competitive and most expensive in the country.

"He will begin making campaign stops and a more formal campaign kickoff next year -- when there's actually an election," Teepell said.

Teepell said that internal polling indicates it's "going to be a competitive race" and added that he's "sure Claire has the same numbers."

Before his election as attorney general, Hawley was part of the legal team for Hobby Lobby in its successful lawsuit against a contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in 2014 that closely held corporations, such as Hobby Lobby, had a religious right to be exempted from the mandate.

Hawley's campaign video attacks McCaskill on the issue of Supreme Court justices. McCaskill voted against Trump's nominee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, after calling some of his past rulings disturbing.

"She's been wrong on every Supreme Court nominee for the last 11 years. She doesn't represent us," Hawley, a former clerk to Chief Justice John Roberts, states in the ad.

The Republican field also includes Austin Petersen, a Kansas City man who unsuccessfully sought the Libertarian nomination for president last year, and military veterans Courtland Sykes and Tony Monetti.

Hawley, who has the backing of Republican mega donors David Humphreys and former Ambassador Sam Fox, is expected to hold a cash advantage over other Republicans when candidates file their campaign finance reports this month.

(c)2017 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)