Claire McCaskill fights for her political life

Posted at 12:47 PM, Nov 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-05 13:47:12-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The race for the U.S. Senate seat in Missouri is very close. The magic question: Will incumbent Claire McCaskill hold her seat and fend off Josh Hawley?

The race for US Senate overall is also very close. Republicans are trying to maintain their control of the Senate. 

They can keep that control if they flip Claire McCaskill's seat to red on Tuesday. 

In our Conversation with the Candidates, reporter Steven Dial sat down with Sen. McCaskill at Winstead’s, a place she would go to years ago when she was the Jackson County Prosecutor.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following transcript was edited for clarity.




Steven: Thank you for sitting down with us and having coffee with us. You probably need coffee on the campaign trail. 

Sen. McCaskill: I need coffee and it is great we are at Winstead’s. I spent many years feeding my children limeades and cheeseburgers at Winstead’s. 

Steven: Kansas City is where you've had a big part of your career. Talk about when you come back here, what thoughts run through your mind?

Sen. McCaskill: It always feels like home, it is a tremendous community. I have been so proud of the Chiefs, the Royals, but what we are really proud of is the way this community has grown, the progress that has been made in Kansas City. There are still issues, but it is a vibrant, booming city that has so much to offer, so I love it when I am here. 

Steven: Talk about being a woman in leadership. You have been a trailblazer at times. What is the difference from when you were a Jackson County prosecutor and now a U.S. Senator? Seeing more people that look like you, vs. years ago when you were one of a few?

Sen. McCaskill: Growing up in my career in a male dominated profession has made me stronger and tougher. I always knew I had to be a little more prepared, work a little harder, so I have seen progress. When I began in the state legislature representing Waldo and Brookside, there were some tough times in Jefferson City. I was single, I was young and I had to learn how to manage that. With every barricade that was erected, it added fuel to my determination to do a little bit better. In the long run, all of those experiences has made a stronger senator. The experience I had as a state auditor helped me find billions of dollars in waste at the Pentagon. I am grateful for my experience, even the tough things. 

Steven: People say the senator from Missouri only votes on the party line. You have been vocal saying you are an independent person. Why do you think people still say you just vote with party? 

Claire McCaskill: Because it’s what they think they have to say on the other side. I have been really disappointed in this campaign. It has been based on 100 percent attacking me and lying about my record. I know Josh Hawley is in a hurry, but you dont have to lie to lead. I may not always vote the way everyone in Missouri wants me to vote - this is a tough state - but there is a lot of stuff we agree on and I am good at finding those things. I am the fifth most likely senator to break with my party in Washington. I think that’s the independence Missourians want. They can dress up the statistics, if you ask a Republican in a non-election year who they can work with, almost every single one of them would name me. I work with them all the time to find that elusive common ground, that gets things done. I think people don’t know what we have actually gotten done. All the drama around Kanye, Stormy Daniels, I hope people go on my website, we have listed 100 accomplishments that I think would resonate with Missourians. 

Steven: Why do you think so many people are energized in both parties? 

Sen. McCaskill: I think that’s what happens when people get really tribal. I am glad people are energized. But I am sad because people are voting because they think the other side stinks. I would hope more independents vote, I hope people who don’t vote party line think this is an important election. This President is someone, unlike Ronald Reagan, that is more comfortable dividing us. I am 100 percent for the proposition that he (Reagan) tried to unify this country, not divide it. 

Steven: Healthcare has divided everyone. What’s your take on pre-existing conditions? There has been plenty of back and forth. Do you think voters know the facts of what one side thinks and what you think? 

Sen. McCaskill: Well, I know that the Republicans have voted 70 times to repeal the ACA. I know that my opponent is a smart lawyer. He filed a lawsuit and he didn’t ask the court to save pre-existing conditions, which is something you can do. He could have said to the court, ‘Throw this out and keep pre-existing conditions.’ He didn’t do that. He said throw it all out. He was so anxious to score a political point, he didn't think about the impact. 

I would point out to people, if he is so comfortable that pre-existing conditions will remain in place, why did he ask the court to not make a decision until after November. There is no safey net. We have bipartisan bills that will improve the healthcare in this country. We don’t have to call it ACA. That is where I can work well in a bipartisan way.

Steven: Is healthcare the most important thing in this election?

Sen. McCaskill: I think healthcare is on the ballot. It is very telling, that in a major publication, a pharmaceutical lobbyist admitted it would be a problem for them if I came back to Washington. They refused to deny they are paying for all of these nasty ads about my record. People need to think about that. Do they want the senator to go back to Washington that big pharma doesn't want? I think Missourians would appreciate the fact that the big pharma companies see me as an enemy. 

Steven: Why do you think people look at you in a negative way?

Sen. McCaskill: I don’t think anyone in Missouri politics has had so many millions in negative ads run against them. I think this election has had $45 million in negative ads. That’s a lot to take on in the public eye. I am pushy, I get carried away, that’s because I am passionate, and that sometimes rubs people the wrong way. It’s really hard for women for being pushy and that gets you to be called the word that starts with a b. 

Steven: Who is your favorite baseball team? 

Sen. McCaskill: I know this is supposed to get me in trouble. This should show Missourians I am not a typical politician. A typical politician would say the Royals. But I gotta be honest, I was raised as a Cardinals fan since I was a little girl. My great uncle made me sit in the backyard with him and listen on the radio. I am always for the Royals unless they play the Cardinals.

Steven: Who is your favorite player? 

Sen. McCaskill: Yadi are you kidding? He just got the award for all the relief work he did. Let’s not finish this interview without talking about the Chiefs. I've been a Chiefs fan. When the Rams were in St. Louis, I said out loud I was a Chiefs fan. 

WATCH: Republican challenger Josh Hawley speaks to Steven Dial