Western Journalism: Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill ‘Probably the Most Beatable Democrat’ in 2018, GOP Rival Says
Citing a survey conducted earlier this month, The Kansas City Starreported Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri was trailing Republican rival Josh Hawley, currently the attorney general of Missouri, by several points.
However, there is another Republican looking for a shot against the incumbent Democrat.
“Frankly, I don’t know if she thinks that there is a candidate that she can beat because, at the moment, she is probably the most beatable Democrat in the entire country,” Senate candidate Austin Petersen said in an interview with Western Journalism.
Petersen, a native of Missouri, boasts a national audience and is more widely associated with another party. Last year, he sought the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination. He ended that race in second place behind former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who was the Libertarian nominee in 2012 as well.
The race, though, put Petersen on the political map. Despite coming up short for the LP nomination, Petersen amassed quite a following. Some Republicans, disheartened with Trump as their nominee, were drawn to Petersen’s pro-life stance and small government bona fides.
As the founder and publisher of “The Libertarian Republic,” a liberty-oriented online news outlet, Petersen has an extensive background with libertarian activism. The Senate candidate, who also serves as the CEO of wide-ranging consulting firm Stonegait LLC, credits Ron Paul as his inspiration for entering libertarian politics.
Working in New York City during the 2012 Republican primary, Petersen was initially a supporter of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani until he heard Paul take on Giuliani during a debate. He was drawn to Paul, a congressman from Texas at the time, and his outlook on foreign policy, terrorism and 9/11.
“I was always a libertarian, but didn’t understand the intellectual underpinnings of it and Dr. Ron Paul really flushed that out for me. He inspired me to get active, motivated, volunteer for his campaign, produce videos and organize activists in New York City,” Petersen told WJ. “One thing led to another and here I am today.”
“After doing all my research, I realized that was what I believed. His brand of liberty was something I always believed in, but didn’t know it even existed.”
By the time the 2008 primary season had concluded, Petersen had made connections with many libertarian activists. In 2008, he moved to Washington, D.C., to work for the Libertarian National Committee.
The 2016 Libertarian primary has been a sore spot for some in the party, including many who supported Petersen’s bid.
After a hard-fought battle, Petersen attempted to make amends with the official party nominee, Gary Johnson, by handing him a replica of George Washington’s flintlock pistol as a gift. While accepting the gift from his formal rival, Johnson was later witnessed throwing Petersen’s gift in the trash — a gesture for which he later had to apologize.
Beyond the gun fiasco, critics of Johnson blame him for botching what could have been a monumental year for the Libertarian Party. Up against two historically unpopular mainstream candidates, 2016 was viewed as a real opportunity for Johnson to make a realistic bid for the White House.
However, Petersen defended his former primary rival.
“To be fair, I think a lot of the attacks against Johnson would have been the same if (I were the nominee) or any of the other Libertarian Party candidates were the nominee,” he stated.
Nevertheless, Petersen agrees that 2016 was a missed opportunity for the United States to have a “credible and viable” third-party candidate.
With the 2016 presidential race in the rearview mirror, Petersen has his sights set on more local territory now. Despite his time spent in New York City and Washington, D.C., Petersen has been a lifelong native of Missouri.
Not only does he believe he is the best candidate to finally take down McCaskill — a move that the GOP has fumbled twice now — but Petersen now also agrees that the best vehicle to deliver his small government rhetoric is the Grand Old Party.
He lavished praise on his newfound home.
“The Republicans have treated me much better than my old party did. The Republicans are very welcoming, they seem to want to grow their party. They haven’t been exclusionary as my old party was in the past,” he explained.
“The grassroots really like me here in Missouri,” he added. “They’ve been inviting me out to their events and inviting me to come to talk to them. They are very interested in my ideas. I think they see that a new brand of conservatism will be necessary for the party to grow in the future.”
Petersen does enter the political fray during a time when the relations between the “establishment” and more grassroots conservatives appear to be at their lowest point. Despite not being supported by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, he said he has not yet felt any animosity directed at his campaign by those who would be considered establishment Republicans.
“Some in the establishment of the party haven’t seen me as a threat just yet. Perhaps that is why I haven’t seen any pushback from city party leaders. So at the moment right now, I am very comfortable where I’m at,” he said.
It does appear, however, that Republican Party elders have coalesced around Hawley, who was elected last year to his current position as Missouri’s attorney general.
Petersen pointed out that, by already choosing to run for higher office so soon after being elected as attorney general, Hawley is breaking the promise he made to Missouri voters.
“What’s troubling is that Hawley campaigned a year ago that he would not be a ladder-climbing career politician, then less than a year into his administration, he broke his promise to Missouri voters. What I’m hearing from Missouri voters is pretty clear: They voted for him to be AG. They are not thrilled that he is already jumping ship.”
Making a case that he is the grassroots candidate, Petersen pointed out that there is a large disparity in campaign donations between the two Republican camps. While the average donation to Hawley’s team is around $2,000, an average contribution to Petersen’s campaign operation is only about $50.
Petersen’s operation also touts around five times as many donors and about 10 times the donations, he said.
Should he make it to the upper chamber of Congress, Petersen is ready and willing to work with McConnell on a conservative agenda, but he is not so confident the Kentucky Republican will still be leading the Senate by the time he gets there.
“It’s very likely he could receive a threat from his own caucus. There have been conservative groups and libertarian groups that are pushing for him to step aside as majority leader. I think that’s a very real possibility so I don’t know if I would have to deal with him.”
It’s true that right-leaning organizations have stepped up pressure to oust McConnell as the GOP Senate leader. Amazingly, Hawley, the man McConnell has handpicked to be the Republican nominee in Missouri, is having trouble himself endorsing McConnell as Senate majority leader.
As for Petersen, he is simply focused on the campaign and on finally unseating McCaskill, a senator he doesn’t believe best represents Missouri values.
“The reason I can beat Claire McCaskill is because she has beaten traditional Republicans before, but I’m a different kind of Republican,” he explained.
“As a different kind of Republican, not only do I think we can beat Claire McCaskill, but we can bring the kind of fresh ideas needed in the United States Senate to support true constitutional conservatism like (that espoused by Republican Sens.) Mike Lee, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Those are the kind of people I want to run as backup for and that’s why I’m doing this.”
Considered by analysts to be one of the most endangered Democrats up for re-election, McCaskill is seeking a third term in a state that has lurched heavily to the right since her first election.
On Election Day last November, Missouri voters chose Trump over Clinton by double digits. Republican Sen. Roy Blunt beat back what national Democrats believed then to be their top recruit of the country (Jason Kander) and Republican Eric Greitens was elected as governor of the state, furthering the GOP dominance of gubernatorial seats across the country.