Republicans Refuse to Let McCaskill Sidestep Kavanaugh Vote

McCaskill wants to focus on health care, but Hawley is making sure voters remember Kavanaugh

Claire McCaskill / Getty Images

CHESTERFIELD, Mo.—Claire McCaskill wants voters to know she had nothing to do with the gauntlet her Senate colleagues put Brett Kavanaugh through. She voted against his confirmation, she says, but only because of his views on dark money in politics. The senator insists she decided to oppose Kavanaugh before she even knew of the sexual assault allegations against him. She's "not one of those crazy Democrats."

Republicans say she is reinventing history and are determined to make sure she doesn't get away with it.

"McCaskill says she's not one of those ‘crazy Democrats,' but she votes with them all the time," said her Republican challenger Josh Hawley during his Monday rally with Sen. Lindsey Graham—the South Carolina Republican is crisscrossing the country to rally voters against senators he deems responsible for the Kavanaugh circus. McCaskill, despite her effort to stay out of the fight, still ended up with Graham's target on her back.

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This is a new role for Graham, who in the past has refrained from campaigning against sitting Senate colleagues like McCaskill. "I like Claire, but I love the country more," Graham explained to reporters after delivering a rousing speech attacking her. He said McCaskill's attempt to stay on the sidelines was just as "disturbing" for him to watch as the senators who led the fight against Kavanaugh.

"Claire was not there when she should have been there," Graham said. "The most disturbing thing to me was the deafening silence. It's not how you vote that bothers me as much as what you didn't do."

"This is a referendum on who you want to run this country—the rule of law attorney general or somebody that quietly sits on the sidelines while the mob gathers. If we don't win big they're going to get the wrong message."

"If we win here in Missouri, it will be pretty clear what happened," Graham said as the crowd roared. "If we win here, it will be the most visible signal that Kavanaugh did matter. If you want to pay them back, elect Josh Hawley."

Hawley pushed the same buttons as Graham, telling the crowd that McCaskill was with the Democrats "every step of the way" as they attempted to destroy Kavanaugh and has ignored their overwhelming support for President Donald Trump in 2016.

"All of this wasn't really about Brett Kavanaugh, it was about you," Hawley said. "It was about the fact that Claire McCaskill and her liberal allies have never accepted what you said in 2016. They have never accepted the outcome of the election, never accepted this president as legitimate."

Trump's approval rating sits at 54 percent in Missouri, according to a new Fox News poll that has the race between Hawley and McCaskill tied. The president's popularity was visible in Hawley's Monday crowd, which was littered with "Make America Great Again" hats.

Two women ready to fight for Trump's 2020 reelection—a fact evidenced by their matching hats with his 2020 "Keep America Great" slogan—said it was the first Hawley event they attended.

"We were already fired up, but that was huge," said Stacy, who lives outside of St. Louis. "We appreciate Lindsey Graham for what he did, and we were hoping to get an opportunity to thank him."

Graham said he didn't deserve any thanks for his actions during Kavanaugh's hearing, which made him a hero to many on the right.

"If you're here to say thank you to me, I appreciate it, but you shouldn't thank me," he said during his speech. "If I had not done what I did, I would have disappointed you. I'm not going to sit on the sideline and watch our people be destroyed."

Hawley has kept the pressure on McCaskill for Kavanaugh, even as the news cycle shifts away from it. On Wednesday he held a press call to push back against her false claim that her decision to oppose Kavanaugh came before she knew of the sexual assault allegations against him. He said she was "outright lying about her position on Kavanaugh," pointing to a public statement during one of their debates that she hadn't made up her mind on Kavanaugh that came days after the allegations became public.

McCaskill meanwhile has been hitting a series of small towns in deep red areas of the state where she's hoping her intense focus on health care, the only issue she consistently focuses on, will be able to peel away enough voters to give her a chance in the state Trump won by 19 points.

McCaskill's strategy of keeping away from hot button issues on the trail frustrates some of her supporters.

"I wish she'd talk about national politics more," said Tom Whiteside, a retired prison worker who went to see her in Cape Girardeau and forced her to take a position on birthright citizenship after she was done talking. Whiteside is voting for McCaskill because she disagrees with Trump, but he was angry to hear her talk so much about how she'd like to work with the president.

"She has my vote because she disagrees with Trump, and I can't stand Trump," Whiteside said, adding that he understands what she's doing. "She wants to say what they want to hear."

The strategy has similarly frustrated urban voters who are concerned she's not doing enough in St. Louis and Kansas City, according to a Politico report.

When McCaskill is forced to take a stand on the political issues of the day, she often distances herself from the party. She says, for example, that she's in complete agreement with Trump on bolstering the southern border as the "caravan" approaches.

Graham said on Monday he doesn't think it will be enough to save her in the current partisan environment.

"If you're a Republican, and you're not energized by Kavanaugh and the caravan, you're legally dead," he said.

Trump is hoping to bolster that energy. He will be in the state on Thursday and again on election eve for his final rally of the midterm elections.