U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill is seizing on an issue that she believes resonates in even the most conservative corners of the state — the financial future of the lowest-wage earners.
The two-term incumbent campaigned Thursday in St. Louis, where she celebrated the resounding defeat of a so-called right-to-work measure earlier this month and touted the value of raising the minimum wage.
An Aug. 7 ballot proposition to make Missouri a right-to-work state, which would have banned mandatory union fees, was defeated by a 2-to-1 margin. The November ballot includes a measure to gradually raise the state’s $7.85 minimum wage to $12 an hour.
“We have an opportunity in November to raise the minimum wage in Missouri and I am 100 percent in favor of that,” McCaskill said. She said it would be a “shot in the arm” for the state’s minimum-wage workers, including about 100,000 parents.
“This is a real important economic driver for our communities. When minimum wage goes up, other wages go up slightly and you have more money in the economy and that actually helps create jobs,” McCaskill said.
Her Republican opponent, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, also campaigned in the St. Louis area Thursday as part of a tour to taunt McCaskill for failing to agree to a series of debates.
Hawley said he was undecided on the November ballot issue, although a higher minimum wage “is probably a good idea.” He said federal lawmakers need to do more than that to help working families, though.
“I think workers deserve a raise in this country. Probably not just workers at the minimum, but every worker in the country, particularly those who make beneath the median wage,” Hawley said.
Republicans view McCaskill’s seat as vulnerable in their bid to keep control of the Senate, and if the minimum-wage issue provides any boost at all for McCaskill, she’ll take it. Missouri was for decades a swing state, although it has moved strongly to the right in recent elections. McCaskill and state Auditor Nicole Galloway are the only Democrats holding statewide office and President Donald Trump carried Missouri by 19 percentage points in 2016.
As she campaigns, McCaskill often points out her bipartisan efforts and portrays herself as a centrist. She is not among the Senate Democrats who are outspokenly critical of Trump.
Supporting a higher minimum wage carries little political risk because Missouri, while conservative outside the urban areas, is also working-class, said Saint Louis University political scientist Ken Warren.
“Missouri has consistently opposed right-to-work, and raising the minimum wage is something Missourians have supported as well,” Warren said. “It’s a pro-working, persons-type of measure.”
“It’s not a radical issue,” Warren said. “Most reasonable people realize you can’t make it on 7-something an hour.”
Whether or not the presence of the ballot measure will help McCaskill in November is uncertain. In 2014, Arkansas voters overwhelmingly passed a minimum-wage initiative, although Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor was still defeated by Republican Tom Cotton.