Subscribe for 99¢

JEFFERSON CITY • A trio of special interest political action committees have launched attack ads in Missouri’s high-profile U.S. Senate race heading into the Aug. 7 primary election.

Although Attorney General Josh Hawley must still win the Republican nomination when voters head to the polls in less than three weeks, the ads pit him as the likely winner to face off against incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill in November.

The ads come as Hawley was feted Thursday by Vice President Mike Pence at an event in St. Louis. In a sign of the importance of the race on a national policy level, President Donald Trump, who won Missouri by 19 points in 2016, also is returning to Missouri next week to raise money for Hawley in Kansas City.

Among those weighing in with television ad buys is the Club for Growth Action, which said it is spending over $2 million over the next two weeks to target McCaskill, viewed as among the most vulnerable senators up for re-election.

In a statement, Republican political strategist Jeff Roe said Club for Growth Action was entering the race to help keep the voters focused on McCaskill’s “awful record.”

“Claire McCaskill’s reign of hypocrisy, self-dealing and liberalism is coming to an end,” Roe said in a statement issued Wednesday, accompanied by a link to a new TV ad bashing the senator.

Also hitting the airwaves in the increasingly volatile race was the conservative Americans for Prosperity political action committee, which is spending $1.8 million on a TV, cable and digital campaign against the Democrat.

The 30-second ad criticizes her use of a private plane while she was on a recreational vehicle tour reaching out to Missouri voters earlier this year. It also notes her opposition to a Republican tax cut approved in 2017.

In a statement from her campaign, McCaskill dismissed the charges, saying the ad buy is financed by the Koch brothers, longtime Republican megadonors.

“Claire is not going to apologize for using personal resources to hear from more Missourians about the issues that matter to them. She rode the RV for the majority of her Veterans and Military Families for Claire tour, and the plane was used to add a stop so that she could reach more Missouri veterans,” the statement says.

Hawley, meanwhile, is being targeted in separate ad that focuses on one of the donors to his 2016 campaign for attorney general.

The ad says the first-term attorney general did not investigate Joplin roofing magnate David Humphreys over a pay-to-play allegation with state lawmakers over pro-business legislation. Humphreys and members of his family associated with TAMKO Building Products contributed $4.5 million to Hawley’s rookie bid for office in 2016.

The ad is being paid for by Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

In a statement, Hawley spokeswoman Kelli Ford said, “Chuck Schumer is so desperate to save Claire McCaskill that he’s flooded Missouri airwaves with liberal, Hollywood money to spread lies about Josh Hawley.”

The ad is betting that Hawley will clear a Republican primary field next month that includes ex-Libertarian presidential candidate Austin Petersen, retired Air Force pilot Tony Monetti and political newcomer Courtland Sykes.

Political Fix e-newsletter

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Kurt Erickson is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch