Senate Dems warn potential Missouri GOP recruit with opposition research dump

Senate Dems warn potential Missouri GOP recruit with opposition research dump
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The Senate Democrats' campaign arm is firing a warning shot at Missouri Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley as the potential top-tier candidate considers a bid against Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDems gain momentum 50 days before midterms CBS Poll: Missouri, Montana Senate races in dead heats Dems play waiting game with Collins and Murkowski MORE (D-Mo.) in 2018. 

Ahead of Hawley's expected bid, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) exclusively shared with The Hill an early look at its opposition research file on the GOP politician to provide a glimpse of what Hawley could face if he jumps in. 

It's a clear attempt to give Hawley second thoughts about announcing a Senate bid after a handful of other top GOP recruits have passed on the race. 

“This is the tip of the iceberg," DSCC spokesman David Bergstein told The Hill in a statement.

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"If Hawley decides to enter this race, he will face a level of scrutiny unlike anything he’s ever seen before, and the Washington Republicans pleading for Hawley to save them from yet another recruitment failure won’t be able to protect him.” 

Missouri Republicans have openly courted Hawley to enter the race for months, even before another potential challenger, Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), decided against a bid. Hawley is seen as the top candidate on the board right now for Republicans who see McCaskill as a vulnerable incumbent running in a state President Trump won by double digits in 2016.  

The DSCC's initial research is centered on Hawley's relationship with top donor David Humphreys, who is caught up in pay-for-play allegations related to a state Senate bill.  

The bill would make it more difficult to file certain lawsuits against businesses accused of wrongdoing. Supporters say it's a simple protection from frivolous lawsuits, while critics fear it will clamp down on consumers' ability to sue. 

Humphreys donated $100,000 to the bill's sponsor, Senate President Pro Tempore Ron Richard (R), days after Richard filed the bill, according to the Kansas City Star. And Humphreys's shingle company currently faces a lawsuit alleging a violation of the statute the bill would amend. 

That's prompted accusations of pay-for-play between the donor and the state lawmaker. 

Democrats are seizing on Hawley's ties to Humphreys to question his decision not to investigate the accusations, pointing to a 2016 interview with The Associated Press where Hawley promised to "make public corruption a top priority here in the state." 

Hawley received more than $3 million in donations from Humphreys between 2015 and 2016, according to campaign finance records. He also received another $1.125 million from employees of Humphreys's Tamko Building Products, according to a database built by STL Today.  

Echoing accusations from the state Democratic Party from earlier this year, the DSCC's opposition research file accuses Hawley of refusing to investigate the complaints against a top donor.

Hawley addressed the accusations during an April interview with NPR's KCUR Radio in Kansas City. 

"Pay-to-play allegations are always serious. My office does not have criminal jurisdiction over pay-to-play allegations, and so those are the jurisdiction lies with the local prosecutor, in this case, the Cole County prosecutor, or the United States attorney," he said.  

He went on to add that "we have to be careful that we don't criminalize free speech" by pushing back on campaign donations that are made above board.  

"There's nothing wrong with a donor giving a campaign contribution to a public official that is made out in the open, that's duly reported, and supporting a policy that he or she thinks is good for the state," he added.

Hawley's political team did not immediately return a request for comment. 

Both Trump and Hawley won their 2016 elections by a roughly 19-point margin in Missouri. 

For months, Wagner had been seen as the top GOP choice to run. But as some prominent Republican donors, including Humphreys, began to push Hawley to consider a bid, Wagner announced she would not jump in. Soon after, fellow Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) ruled a Senate bid out, too. 

The DSCC file is a sign that, as Hawley mulls his bid, Democrats are beginning to sharpen their knives in the hopes of cutting down what could be the GOP's best remaining option to take on McCaskill.