Josh Hawley, rising GOP star trying to flip Missouri Senate seat, officially kicks off campaign

Republicans hoping to expand their majority in the Senate need strong candidates on ballots in states President Trump easily won, like Missouri.

Enter Josh Hawley.

Tuesday was the first day of statewide campaigning for Missouri’s 38-year-old attorney general, seen by many analysts as the Republican Party's best bet to unseat Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat seeking a third term.

The primary isn’t until August, but President already coming to raise funds for Hawley on Wednesday, and is seen as a major asset in the effort to flip this seat. 

“President Trump carried the state by 19 points, he knows something about the state and what he knows is this: That people are fed up with Washington, D.C.” Hawley told FOX News on his campaign bus at a stop in Raytown on Tuesday morning. “Hopefully, he’ll be here frequently.”

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley kicks off his campaign to win the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in Raytown, Mo. Hawley says he hopes President Donald Trump comes to Missouri often to support his campaign against Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill. (AP Photo/Margaret Stafford)

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley kicks off his campaign to win the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in Raytown, Mo. Hawley says he hopes President Donald Trump comes to Missouri often to support his campaign against Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill.  (Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Hawley makes the case that McCaskill’s recent record makes her vulnerable in these midterms -- particularly votes against conservative Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and tax reform, and a perceived closeness with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

“She’s voted against the interests of Missouri and with her party, with Chuck Schumer and the liberal line, and I tell you that is what Missourians don’t want,” Hawley said.  “And that’s why she’s going to lose.”

The early effort to campaign against dysfunction in Washington appears to extend to some congressional Republicans, too, since Hawley isn’t in a hurry to embrace Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., if elected.

“I’m not going to pledge my vote to anybody,” Hawley said.

December 6, 2011: Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., right, accompanied by Sen. Susan Collins R-Maine, gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is seeking a third term in a state that overwhelmingly voted for President Trump.  (AP)

Democrats seem to know they’ve got a formidable opponent in Hawley, as liberal activists targeted his very first campaign stop with roughly a dozen protestors.

“Missouri has always been a battleground state. It seems like it’s been trending in one direction as of late, but we think that Claire McCaskill represents all of Missouri,” Jackson County Democrats Executive Director Geoff Gerling told Fox News on Tuesday. “She’s held 50 town halls in the last year alone, so we’re going to take it very seriously.”

Gerling is optimistic Missouri’s midterm in 2018 will not resemble the 2016 top-of-the-ticket matchup that had the Democratic candidate getting blown out, as he points to a down-ballot contest as a bellwether: the re-election of Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo, over former Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Democrat, by single-digits.

FILE- In this May 23, 2017, file photo, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens speaks to supporters during a rally outside the state Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo. Some fellow Republican lawmakers are raising questions about whether GOP Gov. Eric Greitens had the authority to increase funding for foster-care families above what legislators budgeted. House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick says the governor's action was an unconstitutional overstep of his powers. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

Soon after Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (above) was indicted for alleged invasion of privacy, Missouri Democrats tied him to Attorney General Josh Hawley, the GOP front runner in Missouri’s hotly contested U.S. Senate race.  (Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Democrats are counting on controversy working in their favor. Missouri’s Republican Gov. Eric Greitens was recently indicted on felony invasion-of-privacy charges, and has not resigned.

“Eric Greitens is a person who has put himself first over party over citizens,” Gerling told Fox News.

Hawley is distancing himself from the scandal at the State Capitol.

“It’s not good for the state,” Hawley said.  “And that, as the attorney general of the state, that’s what concerns me most.”

Peter Doocy is currently a Washington D.C.-based correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC).  He joined the network in 2009 as a general assignment reporter based in the New York bureau.