COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill has approvingly evoked former President Ronald Reagan. She said she would back President Donald Trump if he stopped a migrant caravan at the border. And speaking on Fox News, she has decried “crazy Democrats.”
What is the Democratic senator up to?
The vulnerable incumbent is appealing to the right in a bid to win a third term in a state that Trump won by 19 percentage points in 2016.
She’s betting a more centrist message will resonate with independents and moderate Republican voters she desperately needs to beat Republican challenger Josh Hawley, who has relentlessly attacked her as too liberal for the conservative leaning state.
“For me, it’s not about fighting the president every day,” she told a group of supporters gathered at an iconic Missouri pizza parlor called Shakespeare’s Pizza in the college town of Columbia. “It’s about fighting for you every day.”
McCaskill’s messaging prompted Trump to say sarcastically during a Thursday rally in Columbia, Missouri, that: “I didn’t know she was a Republican.”
She’s among 10 Democratic Senate incumbents up for re-election in states the president won, and Republicans see Missouri as a prime opportunity to flip a seat and build on their now slim 51-49 majority in the Senate.
So, during a late October debate McCaskill praised Republican icon Reagan for working to unite the country when he was president in the 1980s.
She accepted an interview with Fox News, which in itself is unusual for a Democrat, and on Monday criticized “crazy Democrats” who “walk in restaurants and scream in elected officials’ faces.”
“I am not somebody who thinks that we should ever be uncivil,” McCaskill said. “I think what most Missourians want is for us to listen to each other, figure out where we can compromise, not scream in each other’s faces (and) not call each other names.”
She avoided calling any of her Senate Democratic colleagues crazy but noted that she has clashed with Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren and disagrees with Sen. Bernie Sanders on a number of issues.
Asked in the same Fox interview about the caravan of migrants making its way through Mexico, McCaskill said:
“Stop it at the border. I think the president has to use every tool he has at his disposal and I’ll 100 percent back him up on that.”
Hawley scoffs at such talk from McCaskill.
“She just does not vote with this state,” Hawley, the state attorney general, wrote in a recent Facebook post. “She voted no on (Supreme Court) Justice Kavanaugh. She voted no on Justice Gorsuch. She voted no on middle class tax cuts. She’s sponsoring an open borders bill. You couldn’t get farther away from what the people of this state want.”
Hawley tied his campaign to Trump and has embraced the president throughout his campaign, although he’s been careful not to adopt Trump’s incendiary rhetoric.
A check of McCaskill’s record shows that she votes with the president about half the time, though she has opposed him on some of the biggest votes including both of his Supreme Court nominees, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.
Trump said that McCaskill had been “saying such nice things about me. But you know what? She’ll never vote with me. That’s the problem.”
Some voters don’t seem sold on McCaskill’s message, either.
“I’m a hardcore conservative, and she’s a hardcore liberal even though she’s trying to hide it,” said Jeff Ferry, a 50-year-old antique store owner from Perry, Missouri who traveled to Columbia to see the president speak. When asked who he will pick for Senate, he said “it sure won’t be Claire McCaskill.”