EFFERSON CITY – Missouri Republican Senate candidate Josh Hawley appears to be distancing himself from the state's embattled governor as he prepares to kick into full gear his campaign to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
Hawley announced his candidacy in October, but so far he's been relatively absent from the campaign trail. He'll kick into full campaign mode with events across the state Tuesday, marking the start of his bid for higher office as fellow Republican Gov. Eric Greitens fights for his political life following a felony indictment related to a 2015 extramarital affair.
Hawley campaign consultant Brad Todd told reporters in advance of the Tuesday kickoff that Greitens "has plenty of things on his plate" and said not to expect him on the campaign trail.
"The election is going to be a whole lot more about what happens on the floor of the Senate than in the basement of the Greitens' house," Todd said.
A grand jury last month indicted Greitens on a felony invasion-of-privacy charge related to the affair with his hairdresser before his 2016 election to the state's top executive office. The charge stems from allegations that he took a nonconsensual photo of the woman, who was at least partially nude, and transmitted the image in a way that could be accessed by a computer.
Greitens has acknowledged the affair but denied criminal wrongdoing.
Along with the felony case, the indictment sparked a Missouri House investigation of Greitens. Hawley's office also now is investigating The Mission Continues, a veterans charity Greitens' founded.
The scandal comes as Hawley and other Republicans face high stakes in the Senate race. It could determine party control of the chamber, where Republicans now have a bare majority of 51 seats.
McCaskill is seen as vulnerable as one of only two statewide-elected Democrats in Missouri, which Donald Trump carried by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016. But she's proven her skills as a candidate before, after she helped Todd Akin win the 2012 U.S. Senate primary, then defeated him following his comments about "legitimate rape."
Democrats have already seized on Greitens' troubles in advertising against Hawley. The Democratic Senate Majority PAC launched an ad this month that opened with television news footage of anchors announcing Greitens' indictment, then shifted to Hawley.
"He's just part of the problem in Jefferson City," a narrator said in the ad.
Saint Louis University political scientist Ken Warren, who has led campaigns for local Democrats, said Greitens faces a balancing act between taking a potential hit by association with the governor and offending Republican voters who still support Greitens.
"The best thing to do is just separate (from) him, not oppose him," Warren said.
He also questioned Democratic efforts to tie the two Republicans, saying the latest ad likely will have "limited impact."
"I don't think that those kind of ads are that effective when it's clear that Hawley has nothing to do with Greitens," Warren said. "He's just another Republican."