Hawley seizes on Supreme Court to hit McCaskill in first TV ad

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, the Republican poised to take on 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 November, is leaning on the current Supreme Court vacancy in the hopes of convincing Missourians to back him in November.

In his Senate campaign's first television ad, released Monday morning, Hawley points to his time clerking on the Supreme Court for Chief Justice John Roberts to frame the Senate race as a pivotal inflection point for the direction of the country.

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"The eyes of the nation are on Missouri. We decide which values control the Senate, and the Supreme Court. Claire McCaskill wants liberals in charge; that’s how she votes. That’s not Missouri’s way, and it won’t be my way," he said.

"Our way of life is at risk."

In a statement Hawley released with the ad, the Republican called on McCaskill to "make a break with [Senate Minority Leader] Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats should end their hypocrisy when it comes to Kavanaugh and the judiciary Celebrities back both Cuomo and Nixon as New Yorkers head to primary vote Dems launch million digital ad buy in top Senate races MORE [D-N.Y.]" and back President TrumpDonald John TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president MORE's pick for the high court. Trump is expected to announce his pick to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on Monday night.

The push is part of Hawley's strategy to put pressure on McCaskill ahead of the nomination, and ahead of voting in her reelection race in a state Trump won by almost 19 points in 2016.

Republicans are targeting vulnerable red-state Democrats like McCaskill over the court even before Trump names a nominee.

A vote for Trump's pick would help McCaskill's bipartisan credentials but would risk alienating her own base, which she'll need if she wants to win reelection. If she votes against Trump's pick, Hawley and Republicans will use the vote as part of their strategy to tar her as too liberal to represent a red state.

McCaskill and other Democrats faced similar pressure with Trump's last pick, Justice Neil Gorsuch. But while three vulnerable, red-state Democratic senators backed Gorsuch, McCaskill did not. Hawley has already tried to use that vote against McCaskill on the campaign trail and is challenging her to a debate on the Supreme Court.

So far, McCaskill has said she'll wait until Trump names a nominee before engaging on whether to vote for the pick.

Her campaign has been mostly focused on health care and trade, accusing Hawley of putting coverage for Missourians at risk and tying him to Trump's controversial tariffs that appear to be sparking a trade war with China.

McCaskill's campaign responded to the ad with a statement that noted that the Democrat has backed about three-quarters of Trump's judicial nominees. 

“Josh Hawley can try to mislead Missouri voters all he wants, but that won’t change Claire’s clear record of working across the aisle to get things done for Missourians,” McCaskill press secretary Eric Mee said in a statement.

Hawley is looking to use the issue to energize his campaign against McCaskill, who has survived many a tough fight in her political career. Recent public polling has given McCaskill an edge, but an Emerson University poll from late April showed the race tied. 

The Democrat has dwarfed the Republican in fundraising — McCaskill raised almost $16 million between January 2017 and March 2018 compared to Hawley's $3.2 million. And McCaskill has $11.5 million banked away while Hawley has $2.1 million on hand.  

Updated at 11:18 a.m.