KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It was a big week for Missouri's Republican attorney general Josh Hawley, who on Tuesday traveled across the state to kick off his campaign to unseat longtime incumbent senator Claire McCaskill (D.) and then welcomed President Donald Trump to the state for a Wednesday fundraiser for his campaign.
Hawley's statewide tour began at Dynamic Fastener, a commercial construction supplier headquartered about 45 minutes west of the small town of Lexington, where Hawley grew up. His message was simple—Missouri is part of the American heartland that is now "disrespected and disregarded" by the liberal elites, who have McCaskill as their "eager ally."
"Hollywood and Wall Street and the D.C. political establishment have worked together to rig a system that favors them, the wealthy and well-connected, while ignoring the rest of us," Hawley told the crowd. "And Claire McCaskill is their eager ally."
"These people tell us that we're the past and they're the future," he said. "Well, with all due respect, they don't know what they're talking about, and I think it's time that someone in the Senate stood up and challenged them."
The message, which was later delivered at an industrial plant in Springfield and then a farm just outside of St. Louis, couldn't have come at a better time. A day earlier, Hillary Clinton was filmed saying states like Missouri were in a "backwards" part of the country that doesn't "like black people getting rights" or "women getting jobs."
McCaskill, who emerged as the first senator to endorse Clinton's presidential run by labeling herself "Ready for Hillary" in June 2013, quickly criticized the way Clinton talked about Missouri voters. But Hawley said the comments were "so typical" of the liberal elite class of which McCaskill is now part.
"She tries to talk differently when she's in the state," Hawley said in an interview on his campaign bus as we headed to his final event. "But she's starting to let her true colors show."
Hawley pointed to McCaskill's interview with MSNBC last week when she said Missouri voted for Trump because people are "cynical."
He said that part of his campaign's challenge will be cutting through the media presentation of McCaskill as a centrist who wants to work across the aisle, even though the facts aren't there to back up that image.
"It's a leftist Washington press corps that's in the tank for her, she goes to the cocktail parties, and they like her," he said. "They take everything she says at face value, even if there are no facts to support it."
Hawley is hopeful, however, that the facts will prevail: "As an attorney, facts are stubborn things. In this case, the facts are on our side, and we will be relentless in putting the facts forward. Her record is what it is, the needs of the people of Missouri are what they are, and those two things could not be farther apart."
Hawley pointed to McCaskill's record over her now 12 years in the Senate and said she's "never reached across the aisle on any issue of consequence."
"If she really wanted to work across party lines, she could do it," he said. " I think her record speaks for itself in terms of being totally out of step with Missouri voters. I think it's just what she believes."
The voters who showed up at Hawley's Tuesday rallies across the board brought up McCaskill's record as the main reason they were there.
"She'll go on camera and say how she supports Missouri every chance she gets, and then a bill comes up and she votes against us every single time," said Pat Brady, who lives an hour south of Springfield and came wearing a "deplorables" t-shirt featuring the Founding Fathers. "She's a typical Democrat."
"McCaskill doesn't want the average American citizen to keep their money," she continued. "She thinks she knows how to spend our money better than we do—I wouldn't trust her to hold the door open for me."
Jim Town of St. Louis said it was McCaskill's opposition to Trump even after she said she was open to working for him that brought him out to support Hawley.
"We need to get Hawley in there to help Trump," said Town. "Claire didn't vote for the tax bill and hasn't been a big supporter for his nominees."
"She's been there too long and has stopped voting for the things Missourians want her to vote for," said Bryan Collins, a young black voter also from St. Louis. "She voted for Obamacare and against tax cuts—that says it all."
Hawley appears to have done a good job building relationships with voters during his 2016 statewide run for attorney general, where he received more votes than any candidate running, even outpacing Trump by just over 3,000 votes.
"When Josh was running for attorney general I asked him a lot of questions," said Brady. "I don't think he's one of those who will tell you what he thinks you want to hear—if he tells you something, it's what he believes."
Hawley says he is prepared for a "negative, dirty, and personal" onslaught from McCaskill, who raised nearly $12 million for the race last year and has openly boasted about how she shrewdly manipulated voters to hold on to her Senate seat. He said the way she campaigns is another indication that she "doesn't really respect voters," but that he doesn't blame her for it. "When you're as out of position as she is and as out of touch as she is, you have to change the subject."
Hawley says he is confident his message on McCaskill's record will get across to voters. "On every big-ticket issue, every time it really matters, she sides with party leadership. Whatever her motivation may be, she has been, and is, a partisan liberal Democrat."
Early polling data indicates next November's battle will be a close one, though an Axios poll released last week found Hawley up eight points. The poll also saw Trump with an approval rating of 55 percent, a rating 14 points higher than McCaskill's.
One of those disapproving voters is Brady, who is eager for November's election to arrive. "I'm ready to do anything I can do to get Claire McCaskill out. I'd like her out of this whole state, but out of office would be a really nice start."