Republican Senator-elect Josh Hawley will now represent this state on the national stage, having defeated incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill on Tuesday. But Missourians still deserve answers to some crucial questions about their new senator: Who is Josh Hawley, and for whom does he speak?
The dapper, carefully coiffed, businesslike lawyer won the state attorney general’s race only two years ago largely by touting his elite degrees from Stanford and Yale Law School. But that person was nowhere to be found these past few months as Hawley, 38, worked to shore up his base across rural Missouri. The person those voters met was a cowboy-booted, plaid-shirted, blue jean-clad regular guy who kept Yale as far away from the conversation as possible.
McCaskill was the elitist, Hawley insisted. He was the kind of guy who preferred debates on flatbed trailers, or trucks, or whatever you call those things. He portrayed himself as someone you might shuck peanuts with around the cracker barrel at the country store. Kind of like Andy Griffith’s homespun character in the classic 1957 film, “A Face in the Crowd.”
But it turned out folks didn’t know Griffith’s character as well as they thought. And since Hawley had no public-service history before 2016, Missourians can’t really claim to know him either. Is Hawley the take-no-prisoners attorney general who joined 19 others in a federal lawsuit to destroy Obamacare and its cherished coverage of pre-existing conditions? Or is he the guy who smiled sincerely into the camera, insisting he was the foremost defender of that coverage?
These questions go to the heart of what Hawley claims he’ll be fighting for when he goes to Washington. On election night, he declared, “Tonight, the people of Missouri have said that our way of life and our values are going to renew this country, and that is what we are about, and that is what we are for.”
Whose way of life? Missourians are white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Hispanic and Native American. We are rich, poor, middle class, white collar, blue collar, urban, suburban and rural. Yes, 1.25 million of us voted for Hawley. But 1.1 million, including big majorities in the urban areas that are Missouri’s economic engine, backed McCaskill.
“Our way of life” is all of the above, not just Hawley’s mainly white, non-urban base.
If you sift out the partisan rhetoric and look closely at Tuesday’s results, Missourians proved themselves actually to be quite moderate politically. Dwarfing the support for Hawley were the 1.57 million votes favoring legalized medical marijuana, or the 1.49 million who supported raising the state’s minimum wage. That’s hardly the profile of a hardline conservative electorate.
Hawley knows his way around a plaid shirt and a lawyerly suit. But before he heads to Washington, Missourians still need to know: Who is Josh Hawley, and whose way of life is he defending?