AGAINST THE GRAIN

The GOP’s Missouri Meltdown

Senate Republicans can’t afford to botch recruitment in red-state races if they want to expand their majority. Their experience in Missouri raises a cautionary flag for the midterms.

Missouri Republican Rep. Ann Wagner speaks to supporters on Nov. 7 at her campaign office where she was seeking her third term in office in Missouri's 2nd Congressional District.
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
July 7, 2017, 12:18 p.m.

In a tu­mul­tu­ous polit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment, Re­pub­lic­ans need to play er­ror-free ball to ex­pand their Sen­ate ma­jor­ity. But if the party’s ex­per­i­ence in Mis­souri is any guide, the GOP needs to sharpen its game be­fore the midterms.

Here’s the back­ground: Sen. Claire Mc­Caskill is ar­gu­ably the most vul­ner­able Demo­crat­ic sen­at­or up for reelec­tion, but she’s also a dogged cam­paign­er who is skilled at ex­ploit­ing her op­pon­ent’s weak­nesses. Rep. Ann Wag­n­er emerged as the ob­vi­ous early fa­vor­ite to chal­lenge Mc­Caskill, giv­en the con­gress­wo­man’s im­press­ive fun­drais­ing re­cord, polit­ic­al base in vote-rich sub­urb­an St. Louis, and abil­ity to ex­pand the num­ber of Re­pub­lic­an wo­men in the Sen­ate. Of­fi­cials at the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Sen­at­ori­al Com­mit­tee ex­pec­ted her to jump in the race this month. She even hired a cam­paign man­ager for the planned Sen­ate run.

This is where the story gets in­ter­est­ing. Des­pite all of Wag­n­er’s strengths, some Re­pub­lic­an of­fi­cials in Wash­ing­ton were grow­ing en­am­ored with Mis­souri At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Josh Haw­ley, an am­bi­tious 37-year-old former Su­preme Court clerk who rock­eted to polit­ic­al prom­in­ence in last year’s state elec­tions. Mis­souri Re­pub­lic­ans across the ideo­lo­gic­al spec­trum, led by former Sen. John Dan­forth, cham­pioned his polit­ic­al po­ten­tial. At the same time, some lead­ing Mis­souri donors wer­en’t sold on Wag­n­er. They raised ques­tions about her com­mit­ment to con­ser­vat­ism, cre­at­ing the pro­spect of a con­tested primary.

Last month in a trip to Wash­ing­ton, Haw­ley spoke with of­fi­cials at NR­SC, ac­cord­ing to sev­er­al sources fa­mil­i­ar with the meet­ing. Haw­ley is rep­res­en­ted by the same con­sult­ing firm as NR­SC chair­man Cory Gard­ner—On­Mes­sage Inc.—giv­ing him a valu­able con­nec­tion to the key power brokers in the cap­it­al. There’s noth­ing wrong with the com­mit­tee meet­ing with pro­spect­ive can­did­ates, but Wag­n­er was kept in the dark about the dis­cus­sion, ac­cord­ing to a spokes­man for the con­gress­wo­man.

In a state­ment, Wag­n­er said she passed on a run due to fam­ily con­sid­er­a­tions. But a ma­jor reas­on she stepped aside is be­cause she felt snubbed by Re­pub­lic­an of­fi­cials who wer­en’t will­ing to put enough weight be­hind her can­did­acy, ac­cord­ing to sources fa­mil­i­ar with her de­cision. She didn’t dis­cuss her de­cision with Gard­ner or Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell be­fore re­leas­ing her state­ment, leav­ing them blind­sided to the polit­ic­al blow­back.

“When she de­cided not to run, it was more of a re­ac­tion to what she was hear­ing and deal­ing with over the last six months than any per­son­al rev­el­a­tion that she doesn’t want to be a sen­at­or,” said one seni­or GOP of­fi­cial fa­mil­i­ar with her think­ing. “She wasn’t able to unite the party, and prob­ably would have pro­voked some kind of primary.”

Wag­n­er’s ab­rupt re­versal puts Re­pub­lic­an of­fi­cials in a tight spot. They are now put­ting all their chips in re­cruit­ing Haw­ley to the race, be­liev­ing he’s just as strong of a can­did­ate as Wag­n­er. But he’s still ag­on­iz­ing over a de­cision, wary about leav­ing statewide of­fice after less than a year to pur­sue a job in Wash­ing­ton. Des­pite his cor­di­al con­ver­sa­tions in Wash­ing­ton, he nev­er was plan­ning to chal­lenge Wag­n­er in a primary. Now he will need to make a ca­reer-al­ter­ing de­cision in short or­der, risk­ing a com­fort­able job in leg­al circles to be­come the polit­ic­al face of the GOP’s re­cruit­ing class in 2018.

Re­pub­lic­ans have oth­er in­ter­ested can­did­ates if Haw­ley de­cides not to run, in­clud­ing state Treas­urer Eric Schmitt and Rep. Vicky Hartz­ler. But neither comes close to Haw­ley’s polit­ic­al fire­power. The big­ger GOP fear is that a wide-open, crowded primary field would lower the bar for win­ning, lead­ing to a weak can­did­ate emer­ging as Mc­Caskill’s chal­lenger—ex­actly what happened with Todd Akin’s flawed can­did­acy in 2012.

In­deed, fail­ing to ef­fect­ively nav­ig­ate in­tra­party chal­lenges five years ago is the reas­on why Mc­Caskill is still a sen­at­or today. Back then, Re­pub­lic­ans failed to clear the field for a cred­ible can­did­ate, even though the statewide polit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment was highly fa­vor­able for the party. In turn, the polit­ic­ally tone-deaf Akin won the nom­in­a­tion, giv­ing Demo­crats a gift-wrapped Sen­ate seat they oth­er­wise wouldn’t have won.

That scen­ario looked un­likely to re­peat it­self in 2018, giv­en the deep bench of top Re­pub­lic­an of­fice­hold­ers and the state’s con­ser­vat­ive trend line. But there are some eer­ie sim­il­ar­it­ies in the party’s in­ab­il­ity to land its top can­did­ate and grow­ing fears of a messy Re­pub­lic­an free-for-all. If Re­pub­lic­ans can’t win in Mis­souri next year, it’s go­ing to be a very rough midterm cycle for the GOP.

What We're Following See More »
UNOFFICIAL RETURNS HAVE HIM UP 905 VOTES
Republican Candidate Mark Harris Supports New Election in NC-9
12 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

"The North Carolina State Board of Elections is hearing evidence this week to decide whether a suspected ballot-tampering scheme tainted the outcome in the 9th Congressional District where Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in unofficial returns."

Source:
TO DEMAND VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT MADURO STEP DOWN
Pence Traveling to Colombia
4 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"Vice President Mike Pence will go to Colombia on Monday to speak with the Colombian president and regional leaders about the ongoing turmoil in Venezuela and rally the international community behind opposition leader Juan Guaidó." Pence "will deliver remarks to the 14 nations that are part of the 'Lima Group' in Bogota," and will meet with Colombian President Ivan Duque.

Source:
LIKELY TO FACE COMPETITION IN REPUBLICAN PRIMARY
Rep. Bradley Byrne Announces Bid Against Sen. Doug Jones
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne became the first official Republican entrant into the 2020 U.S. Senate race announcing his intention to run in a race that could become one of the most expensive political contests in Alabama history. Byrne, a three-term congressman from Fairhope, said he anticipates the fundraising during the lengthy 2020 campaign to eclipse the 2017 special Senate election, in which an estimated $50 million was spent during the contest. Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones, who narrowly defeated Republican Roy Moore in that election, raised more than $24 million."

Source:
TARGETS INCLUDED NANCY PELOSI
Coast Guard Lt. Planned Large-scale Terrorist Attack
5 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"A U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant and self-identified white nationalist was arrested after federal investigators uncovered a cache of weapons and ammunition in his Maryland home that authorities say he stockpiled to launch a widespread domestic terrorist attack targeting politicians and journalists...Though court documents do not detail a specific planned date for an attack, the government said he had been amassing supplies and weapons since at least 2017, developed a spreadsheet of targets that included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and searched the Internet using phrases such as “best place in dc to see congress people” and “are supreme court justices protected.”

Source:
AVOIDS SHUTDOWN WITH A FEW HOURS TO SPARE
Trump Signs Border Deal
5 days ago
THE LATEST

"President Trump signed a sweeping spending bill Friday afternoon, averting another partial government shutdown. The action came after Trump had declared a national emergency in a move designed to circumvent Congress and build additional barriers at the southern border, where he said the United States faces 'an invasion of our country.'"

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login