JEFFERSON CITY – U.S. Senate candidate Josh Hawley started a 100-stop campaign tour of Missouri businesses early last month, but it drew little attention amid the unfolding scandals that ultimately cost Gov. Eric Greitens his job and led to grumblings from some fellow Republicans that Hawley wasn't doing enough to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill this fall.
Hawley, the state attorney general, said Greitens' resignation last week has left voters with "more bandwidth now to focus on the race" as he continues his tour with stops Friday in Springfield and Conway. He said the tour is aimed at drawing attention to the difficulties facing Missouri workers and what he described as the impending "collapse of the middle class."
"The basic facts as I see them are this: that hard-working, responsible people who play by the rules increasingly have no place to stand in our economy," Hawley told The Associated Press. "Wages are stagnant, health care costs are out of control, jobs have gone overseas and the costs of education and raising kids are suffocating our families."
The campaign tour could help reassure the Republican base about Hawley's candidacy, said Truman State University political scientist Candace Young. She said he'll also have a chance to connect with a lot of people and could earn financial support from businesses and other pro-business donors.
McCaskill has been emphasizing the more than 50 town hall-style meetings she held in Missouri last year, primarily in rural areas dominated by supporters of President Donald Trump. She has been campaigning hard, holding eight events in three days last week to meet with veterans and military families who support her.
"It is a little interesting that Hawley is needing to go back in and shore up his base and that Sen. McCaskill is using the standard approaches of a senator to do these town halls to get out and try to do some outreach throughout the state," Young said. "It's an interesting contrast where the two campaigns are."
The race has been complicated by the distraction posed by Greitens, who resigned while facing investigations stemming from an extramarital affair and his campaign's alleged use of a donor list belonging to a charity he founded and with legislators discussing whether to seek his impeachment.
Even though Hawley's office conducted multiple investigations of Greitens and Hawley called on him to resign, Democrats for months worked to tie him to the governor.
The Democratic Senate Majority PAC recently launched an ad campaign criticizing Hawley for being too soft on the governor, and PAC spokesman Chris Hayden has said the group wouldn't pull the ad just because Greitens resigned.
Missouri's primary is Aug. 7, and the general election is Nov. 6. Hawley and McCaskill face primary challengers, but they're considered the frontrunners.