Why did an experienced and moderate Democrat like Claire McCaskill lose in Missouri? She took black voters for granted

McCaskill courted Republicans and swing voters, even using her campaign ad to say she wasn't a 'crazy Democrat'. But in concentrating so much on GOP votes, she ended up making a huge tactical error

Hope Howard
Wednesday 07 November 2018 13:01 GMT
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The results of the Missouri senate race tell us something important: Midwesterners aren’t quite ready for the blue wave.

In the closely watched race, Democrat incumbent Claire McCaskill lost to Republican Missouri Attorney Josh Hawley by nearly 6 percent of the vote.

Yes, it was predicted that Republicans would maintain control of the Senate, but considering McCaskill has 11 years' experience as a Senator, it came as a surprise that Hawley trumped her with only two years of experience in politics. And as there has been a surge in Democrat voices and grand support for women candidates, one would think she could have capitalised on the wave of change.

McCaskill managed to defeat Todd Akin in 2012, a Republican who claimed a "legitimate rape" rarely leads to pregnancy. Even in the traditionally red state of Missouri, that doesn’t fly.

But in 2018, McCaskill faced a sharper Republican candidate. Hawley, being young, good-looking and articulate, is a shiny new object to Missouri voters.

Nevertheless, McCaskill's biggest opponent wasn’t Hawley — it was herself. She voted one too many times consistent with her Democratic roots.

For example, she voted against Kavanaugh’s appointment, but not because Christine Blasey Ford's sexual assault allegations against him, but because of his use of “dark money”. This was an attempt to court moderate Republicans – or at least not to entirely turn them off – but it didn’t work. And she tried to sway soft Republicans by promoting veterans' views and refusing to take a strong stance on abortion. But while she was busy appealing to Republicans – telling them she wasn’t a “crazy Democrat,” for instance, as her campaign commercial did – McCaskill failed to focus on an important group of traditionally Democrat-backing voters: African Americans.

These voters were the most valuable and vulnerable to her, and without them she lost her chance at being re-elected as Senator.

Voter turnout proves it. African American votes surged in 2012, but lacked in 2016.

Ultimately, McCaskill didn’t lose because there were too many Republican votes, but because there weren’t enough Democratic votes. Even worse—she was warned and didn’t do enough about it.

State Representative Bruce Franks, a prominent black rights activist, said before the election, “I’m going to vote for Claire, but Claire is going to have to bring her ass to St Louis. Period. She’s going to have to show up, and it’s not just about talking.” He knew she was on thin ice.

And in some ways, she tried. She held a few events with prominent African American officials in both Kansas City and St Louis to help mend the gap it was clear had opened, but it seems the damage was already done.

It is thought that she spent too much time in small rural counties, which were also crucial to winning the election. Unfortunately for Claire, the gamble of prioritising these rural counties didn’t pay off.

In the future, candidates for Senate will not be able to overlook minority groups, or even worse, take them for granted. This tactical error caused McCaskill dearly in an election that, by all accounts, should have been an easy victory.

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