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WASHINGTON • Josh Hawley will be 39 years old when he is sworn in as Missouri’s next U.S. senator, and his brief period in Missouri politics makes it somewhat of a mystery as to what kind of senator he will be.

He is a conservative, for sure, and a Donald Trump ally. He will be the youngest senator, the only one in his 30s, but with traditional views on social issues and economics. His views on foreign policy are less known, but he is a robust supporter of President Trump’s tough immigration policies. Hawley’s actions in two years as Missouri’s attorney general suggest he’ll be an activist in areas like religious freedom, a skeptic of government regulations.

There are currently 10 U.S. senators in their 40s, seven of them Republicans. And two from states neighboring Missouri — Tom Cotton, 41, of Arkansas, and Ben Sasse, 46, of Nebraska — are potential templates for Hawley.

All three men are Ivy League graduates, conservatives with impressive educational and professional pedigrees. All three had early political ambitions fulfilled in Republican states. Whether Hawley follows the Cotton or Sasse template, or travels somewhere between them, will determine his service in the Senate, and his legacy beyond it.

Cotton is one of Trump’s biggest allies, credited with helping recommend key Trump Cabinet members. He has looked dubiously upon legislative efforts to protect special counsel Robert Mueller, an issue that has again become urgent for the Senate with Trump’s firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Sasse, meanwhile, was among the first senators — Republican or otherwise — to call for Congress to protect Mueller after Sessions was fired, saying that should be a “prerequisite” for any Trump nominee to replace Sessions.

While supporting many of the president’s central policy initiatives, like tax cuts, regulatory rollbacks and judicial nominees, Sasse is a frequent critic of the president’s rhetoric. He also is the author of a new book, “Them,” that argues for a more inclusive Republicanism, one that recognizes “we are relational beings,” who are “meant to be together, pursuing goals and dreams in common.”

Will Hawley, who rarely disagreed with Trump during a fierce campaign that toppled Sen. Claire McCaskill, follow the Cotton road? Will the incoming senator who campaigned rarely in the state’s urban areas or inner suburbs, following Trump’s strategy to run up the vote margins in rural areas and small towns and cities, be seen as Trump’s senator?

Or will he go more the Sasse route, carefully picking places where he disagrees with Trump on policy or method?

Former Republican U.S. Sen. John Danforth of Missouri, who helped talk Hawley into running and then endorsed his candidacy, hopes Hawley follows the Sasse model.

Sasse “is a conventional Republican in a lot of ways, but he is also more than that, he is a real intellectual and he has a much broader view of the world than a lot of people in politics,” Danforth, a critic of Trump’s rhetoric, said.

“And I think Josh Hawley offers that,” Danforth said. “He certainly has the background and the education and the brain to be an exceptional senator who can add a lot rather than just making the kind of statement that the president makes.”

Republican senators generally will “try to be in agreement with (Trump) and try to be supportive of the president,” Danforth added. “There is plenty of room to do that. But I also think there is plenty of room to work with Democrats.”

Hints of a senator on the right

As someone who has never served in a legislative body, Hawley, who declined an interview request for this story, has no voting record on which to base predictions about where he’ll be on the Senate’s ideological spectrum.

The Senate he is entering will be more ideologically divided than the current one, and it will have two or three more Republicans . That’s more breathing room when Republican moderates, such as Susan Collins of Maine, break with the party on tough votes.

McCaskill, although attacked as a liberal by Hawley, had one of the most centrist voting records in her caucus. Similar centrists Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana also lost on Tuesday. Two Republican senators who sometimes worked with Democrats — Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona — retired.

Meanwhile, the most ideologically polarized senators, such as Republican Ted Cruz of Texas and Democrat Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, were re-elected.

There are firm hints Hawley will be a socially conservative, activist senator, with broad predilections to support Trump on economic issues. In that way, he may come down to the right of even the president, and be more aligned with the Cottons than the Sasses of his caucus.

In his election night speech, Hawley pledged to fulfill campaign promises to secure the country’s borders, support “pro-Constitution and pro-America judges,” bring back jobs from overseas and “stand up” for the state’s farmers and small businesses.

But the last item on that agenda could test his Trump allegiance. Senate Republicans have been nervous all year about the long-term effects of Trump’s trade wars with China, the European Union and other trade rivals, but tamped down their criticism during an election year.

Unencumbered by election worries, will the caucus as a whole push back on Trump’s trade impact on Missouri farmers or manufacturers hurt by the policies? Would Hawley join in that resistance?

Judging by his legal actions as attorney general, Hawley will be on board with Trump’s regulatory and health care agenda.

A lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act that he brought Missouri into could make health care the most urgent issue. The judge could rule any day, and if one or any part of it is struck down, a new Democratic majority in the House will scramble to pick up the pieces.

Hawley says he is for parts of the law that are popular, particularly protection of people with pre-existing medical conditions. But McCaskill and other Democrats argued that Republican legislative efforts to keep that protection aside from Obamacare produced bills that could have driven up the cost of insurance for people with pre-existing conditions to unaffordable levels.

Hawley has sought to undo numerous environmental protections through his Federalism Unit, including former President Barack Obama’s “Waters of the USA” stream protections, which were unpopular in rural Missouri, and Obama’s Clean Power Plan which sought to reduce dependence on coal-fired power plants.

Through the years, Hawley has also advocated for the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which bars religious organizations from expressing political views from the pulpit.

Hawley launched the Missouri Liberty Project in 2014 to combat “government overreach” and to “defend the U.S. Constitution.” At the time, Hawley was suing the federal government on behalf of Hobby Lobby. The company argued that it should not have to be forced to cover contraception as part of employees’ health plans.

Hawley’s views on popular culture and religion also came into focus during his Senate campaign.

In February, he told a group of pastors at an event in Kansas City that modern-day sex trafficking was caused by the sexual revolution — a claim that received widespread opposition.

“You know what I’m talking about, the 1960s, 1970s, it became commonplace in our culture among our cultural elites, Hollywood, and the media, to talk about, to denigrate the biblical truth about husband and wife, man and woman,” Hawley said at that gathering.

Entering gridlock?

It’s an open question about what this next Congress can get done, given that Trump has already swung into re-election mode and several of Hawley’s future colleagues in the Senate are likely to run for president.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Congress faces continuing, intensifying questions about how to shore up Obamacare, and what to do about illegal immigration. But now the Senate will need to proceed on this, and any issue, knowing that the House is in Democratic control starting in January, and in no mood for an outright repeal of Obamacare or of an immigration law that matches Trump’s tough rhetoric.

“There is now a check on Donald Trump, and that is great news for America,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said.

One possible area of agreement: pre-existing conditions.

“I think all of our candidates who subsequently won were able to make clear to the voters that everybody we know was in favor of covering pre-existing, including the candidates like Hawley and (Indiana Republican Mike) Braun and others,” McConnell said. “So the rhetoric doesn’t solve the problems with Obamacare, and we are obviously now going to have to try to address that on a bipartisan basis.”

McConnell was less optimistic about immigration, noting that it had not been solved when Democrats controlled both Congress and the White House early in Obama’s presidency, and the issue was not solved during the last two years of total Republican control.

One area Hawley may see the most initial action is on the confirmation of Trump judicial nominees, and replacements in his Cabinet. Already, Trump has fired Sessions, and other Cabinet members may leave.

“The president, I think, has done an excellent job (of) picking young men and women who believe the job of a judge is to follow the law, and we intend to keep confirming as many as we possibly can for as long as we are in a position to do it,” McConnell said. That will be a “top” priority of 2019, he said.

Hawley campaigned on getting spending in line, but it is hard to see how that happens in a split Congress. The federal deficit will be over $1 trillion this year, but many Democrats campaigned — and won — against Republican claims that Social Security and Medicare needed to be a part of any serious cost-cutting plan.

“The Democrats have made it perfectly clear they are not interested in dealing with entitlements and they are in a position to say no, and so I don’t think that will be on the agenda,” McConnell said.

Advice to a young senator

Danforth said that, with divided government, he hopes that the Senate that Hawley is entering goes back to the “regular order” of committees having a greater say in drafting legislation.

That has long been advocated by Senate traditionalists, including Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt.

“I am confident that there are good, right, reasonable people in both parties, and it is possible to legislate with them,” Danforth said. “The question now is, is the Senate in the business of legislating?”

Danforth has specific advice for Hawley, personally and professionally.

Get on a consequential committee that actually shapes legislation, he said, suggesting the Finance Committee that he served on.

And move your family to Washington and socialize with the people you will be serving alongside.

“A lot of these people don’t live in Washington, and I think that is a mistake,” Danforth said. “I think knowing your colleagues as friends, not just political operatives, but knowing them as friends, is very, very important.”

Hawley vs. McCaskill: Coverage of the 2018 Senate race

Post-Dispatch coverage of the 2018 race for Missouri's U.S. Senate seat.

Chuck Raasch is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Jack Suntrup covers state government and politics for the Post-Dispatch.