Good news, folks. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) would like you to know that she is "not one of those crazy Democrats." You know the ones she means. The flanneled avocado-huffing Chapo Traphouse-listening pajama boys who are only two or three Senate seats away from storming the Bastille and lopping off the heads of Wall Street bankers on Madison Avenue, commie lunatics like Tim Kaine and Chuck Schumer. Instead she is the sort of red-blooded beer-chugging Midwestern gal who opposes single-payer health care because it is "fiscally irresponsible."
It is impossible not to admire McCaskill for her political savvy. Unlike Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and other moderate Democrats in the Senate, she represents a state that is deep red rather than purple. In her 2015 memoir Plenty Ladylike, a rare example of a modern political book that is both honest and genuinely insightful, she admits that she basically arranged the nomination of her ill-fated 2012 Republican opponent, Rep. Todd Akin of "legitimate rape" fame. A chalk statue of Geoffrey the Giraffe could have beaten Akin, but only an electoral tactician of genius could have worked with consultants to engineer the candidacy of a lunatic capable of losing to a Democrat in the same year that Mitt Romney would beat Barack Obama by 9 points in the state.
Since then she has taken a series of positions that sometimes give the impression of being chosen at random. In a 2012 study in National Journal, she was ranked the 50th most progressive senator and the 51st most conservative. She broke with her party to confirm Ajit Pai as chairman of the FCC in a 2017 vote that was considered a referendum on net neutrality, but she has since proposed legislation that would restore a version of the policy. She supports strict gun control measures, despite representing a state whose residents are permitted to carry concealed weapons without applying for a permit or taking part in a training course. She voted against President Trump's tax cuts in 2017 and takes a moderate position on immigration while railing against "socialists." She is in favor of the Keystone Pipeline and against cap-and-trade carbon reduction programs. She nearly voted in favor of confirming Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court in 2017 before coming down squarely in opposition to Brett Kavanaugh this year, not over allegations of sexual assault against him but because of his feelings on campaign contributions. In 2016, she endorsed Hillary Clinton's candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, dismissing Bernie Sanders as "extreme" and his supporters as a bunch of lunatics who might as well be lining up to vote for Ron Paul.
All of this has worked out reasonably well for McCaskill so far. The problem now is that she has not been able to find another Akin to run against in 2018, two years after Donald Trump's margin over Hillary Clinton in Missouri was 18 percent, almost double that of Romney over Obama. So far the most extreme things of which she has been able to accuse Josh Hawley, her current opponent, are purchasing at least one bottle of wine and visiting a gym. Admittedly there is a certain kind of conservative who would respond to the latter by pointing out that exercise is something only namby-pamby coastal elite types care about, but I don't think it quite reaches up to Akin's off-the-cuff speculation about the ontological status of sexual assault.
At present the outcome is a toss-up, with Hawley leading by 1 point at most in independent polls. (His campaign, naturally, maintains that he has a lead of at least 7.) But the race, which has always been close, has been narrowing in his favor for months. Meanwhile McCaskill has broken Missouri fundraising records in a contest that has attracted scores of millions of dollars in outside spending. She has also been criticized by progressives in her home state of selling out and even deriding the voters upon whom her success in November will depend. State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal has even accused her of engaging in racial dog-whistling with her recent comments about "crazy Democrats." Chappelle-Nadal is urging Democrats to write in independent progressive candidates in November instead of McCaskill, who has previously called upon Chappelle-Nadal to resign for her insensitive comments about President Trump.
Beating a Republican endorsed by President Trump in a state the president won by nearly 20 points only two years ago is a tall order, especially if you are unwilling to go as far as Sen. Joe Manchin in West Virginia, who votes for the White House agenda almost as frequently as some Republicans, or Sen. Joe Donnelly in Indiana, who is quoting Ronald Reagan in his TV ads this fall. If any Democrat can pull it off it is McCaskill. But if she loses it will be hard to escape the argument that a candidate who ran against everyone — her opponent, both his party and her own, to say nothing of the latter's valuable activist base, the sitting president — and in favor of nothing especially memorable was too clever by half.
Editor's note: This article originally mischaracterized McCaskill's position on net neutrality. It has since been clarified. We regret the error.