Sen. Claire McCaskill (D)
Elected: 2006, term expires 2012, 1st term.
Born: July 24, 1953, Rolla .
Home: St. Louis.
Education: U. of MO, B.S. 1975, J.D. 1978.
Family: Married (Joseph Shepard); 7 children.
Elected office: MO House of Reps., 1982-88; Jackson Cnty. legislature, 1990-92; Jackson Cnty. prosecutor, 1992-98; MO auditor, 1998-2006.
Professional Career: Law clerk, MO Court of Appeals, 1978; Asst. Jackson Cnty. prosecutor, 1978-82; Practicing atty., 1983-92.
Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, was elected Missouri’s junior senator in 2006. She was born in Rolla, about halfway between St. Louis and Springfield, and grew up in the Missouri towns of Houston, Lebanon, and Columbia. She hails from a political family. Her father served for a time as state insurance commissioner, and her mother was the first female city council member in the university town of Columbia. McCaskill earned degrees from the University of Missouri and its law school, clerked for the state Court of Appeals in Kansas City, and worked as an assistant prosecutor. In 1982, at the age of 29, she was elected to the Missouri House, where she was the first sitting member to have a baby. Ten years later, she became Jackson County prosecutor. And in 1998, she decided to run statewide and was elected state auditor.
|Claire McCaskill (D)||1,055,255||(50%)||($11,705,967)|
|Jim Talent (R)||1,006,941||(47%)||($14,340,762)|
|Claire McCaskill (D)||282,767||(81%)|
|Bill Young (D)||67,173||(19%)|
In 2004, halfway through her second term as auditor, McCaskill challenged incumbent Gov. Bob Holden in the Democratic primary. Holden’s administration had started off on the wrong foot, holding a $1 million inaugural, the largest in state history. The inaugural committee wound up $417,000 in debt. Things didn’t get much better as a tough economic climate necessitated deep spending cuts and Holden battled with the Legislature over education funding. Despite roots in the Ozarks, he was also hurt in outstate Missouri by his 2003 veto of a concealed-carry gun law. Democrats worried that they needed a stronger candidate to survive a Republican challenge in November. In stepped McCaskill, who defeated Holden 52%-45%. Holden graciously conceded, and the party and the state’s major labor unions, which backed Holden, quickly united behind her against Republican Secretary of State Matt Blunt, the 33-year-old son of House Majority Whip Roy Blunt. This was not the first contest between the McCaskills and Blunts: Blunt’s grandfather, Leroy Blunt, had been elected to the Missouri House in 1978 by defeating McCaskill’s mother, Betty McCaskill.
In the general election campaign, Blunt promised to make state government more accountable and efficient. He supported concealed-carry legislation and the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and he opposed abortion rights. McCaskill supported abortion rights, though she opposed late-term abortions, with an exception for the life of the mother. She opposed the concealed-carry gun law and the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. McCaskill sought to take advantage of Blunt’s youth and relative inexperience in state government, noting that she would not need on-the-job training. She lost 51%-48%. McCaskill easily carried the Kansas City and St. Louis metropolitan areas but lost big in outstate Missouri, where Blunt won 90 of the 97 counties outside the two metro areas.
Despite the narrow loss, with three previous statewide races, McCaskill was a prize Senate recruit for the national party in 2006. She would be running for a seat that had changed partisan hands in both 2000 and 2002. In 2000, Republican John Ashcroft had lost 51%-48% to Mel Carnahan, the sitting governor whose name remained on the ballot after his death 22 days before the election. Carnahan’s wife, Jean, was appointed to the vacancy. In the 2002 election for the remaining four years of the term, she lost 50%-49% to Republican Jim Talent. In most election years, Talent would have been well positioned for re-election. He had avoided ethics missteps, was attentive back home, and had quietly built a solid legislative record. But the war in Iraq and the unpopularity of the Bush administration were not helpful to a politician elected to the Senate with a thin 21,000-vote margin.
McCaskill announced her candidacy in August 2005 on the steps of the feed mill where her father once worked—a backdrop that telegraphed her focus on the rural counties that cost her the governor’s election. She emphasized her country upbringing and promised to “never forget rural Missouri.” She traveled in a 31-foot recreational vehicle through the rural region she once called “Ashcroftland” for its religious conservatism. She denounced tax breaks for oil companies, called for an increase in the minimum wage, and said she would push tax credits for first-time home purchases, child care, and college education. Throughout the campaign, McCaskill linked Talent to President George W. Bush. “He agrees with President Bush more than I agree with my husband,” she liked to say. But the issue of embryonic-stem-cell research generated the most attention. A controversial proposed constitutional amendment forced both candidates to address whether they supported more government funding for the research, which uses surplus embryos from in vitro fertilization procedures. McCaskill supported it, and Talent was against it. Missouri Republicans were split: State business leaders backed the proposal in hopes of attracting biomedical research to the state, while religious conservatives opposed it, considering the destruction of embryos the destruction of human life.
In October, Talent flayed McCaskill over her family’s personal finances and demanded that she release the tax returns of her husband, Joseph Shepard, a developer of low-income housing financed by government loans, who filed his taxes separately from her. Talent also suggested that they hadn’t paid all of their taxes and accused McCaskill’s husband of owning an offshore tax shelter. Through late October, polls showed the race to be a dead heat. On Election Day, McCaskill won 50%-47%, a difference of just 48,000 votes out of 2.1 million cast. It was the third consecutive election for the seat decided by fewer than 50,000 votes. Just as in the 2004 governor’s race, McCaskill won big margins in the Kansas City and St. Louis metro areas, but unlike 2004, she held her own in outstate Missouri and carried 11 counties that she lost in 2004.
In her first year in the Senate, McCaskill emphasized her independence, voting against her party more often than most non-Southern Democrats. She was the first Democrat to back Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain’s 2007 amendment blocking any bill containing spending earmarks, and she stepped forward to support South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint’s one-year moratorium on earmarks. Her tough stance on earmarks put her at odds with her Missouri colleague Christopher (Kit) Bond, a Republican and longtime appropriator. But they also cooperated on Missouri issues like disaster aid for farmers and promotion of Boeing’s C-17 military transport plane.
Unlike most Senate Democrats, McCaskill voted against measures to cut off military funding in Iraq and to set timetables to withdraw U.S. troops. She opposed the 2007 immigration bill that created a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and she declined to co-sponsor the Equal Rights Amendment. “The ERA, just because of the history of it, just in and of itself, is an incredibly divisive thing, and sometimes I’m not sure the divisiveness is worth it,” McCaskill said. In June 2008, she declined to commit to Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer’s bill tightening restrictions on greenhouse gases. With Virginia Democrat Jim Webb, she sponsored a successful bill authorizing creation of a bipartisan commission to look into possible wartime profiteering, something like the committee Missouri Sen. Harry Truman chaired during World War II. Their bill passed as part of the defense bill in January 2008. In her first term, McCaskill established herself as a willing player in bipartisan legislation. With Republican Susan Collins of Maine, she sponsored a bill to make inspectors general more independent, giving them seven-year terms and their own legal counsel. It passed in April 2008.
In January 2008, after the New Hampshire primary and at the urging of her 18-year-old daughter, McCaskill endorsed Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for president. She spoke frequently on Obama’s behalf during his primary campaign against New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. At one point, McCaskill accused former President Bill Clinton of trying “to manipulate the facts.” Missouri was one of the few states where the margin in the presidential primary, and in the general election, was exquisitely close. Obama won the Missouri primary over Clinton 49.3%-47.9%, carrying just five counties and St. Louis City.