Tight contest expected between McCaskill and Hawley; polls, donations revealing

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COLUMBIA - All eyes are on Claire McCaskill and her expected republican challenger, Josh Hawley, as they compete for the race of their life — the Senate seat currently held by McCaskill.

According to McCaskill's campaign, she has raised more than $4.3 million in donations from April through June and has more than $12.2 million in cash on hand. 

Her spokesman, Eric Mee, said, “Missourians know that Claire always has their back, and they are turning out in record numbers to keep her fighting for them in the Senate.” 

Kelli Ford, spokeswoman for Attorney General Josh Hawley's campaign, said Hawley raised $1.87 million in donations from April through June with $3.029 million in cash on hand. 

"Senator McCaskill is, as ever, the candidate of Big Money," Ford said. "It’s the focus of her entire campaign. And she’s raising gobs of it from out of state, proclaiming herself a leader of the Anti-Trump Resistance." 

Marvin Overby, a political science professor at MU, said money "doesn’t translate neatly into votes."

"McCaskill has significantly outraised Hawley, but it’s unclear how much of an advantage that will be to her," Overby said. 

Overby said the effect of spending for incumbents is limited.

"Since they are already well known to the public, incumbents can buy very little more in terms of name recognition by spending more," Overby said. "In fact, some studies suggest that there is actually a negative relationship between what incumbents spend and the percentage of the vote they receive, with more spending indicating not strength but weakness, in that they are facing a tougher challenger."

Terry Smith, a political science professor at Columbia College, said money does matter. 

"This is just money that they've raised," Smith said. "There is also a lot of outside money that's not coordinated with their campaigns that's coming in as well. And my guess is, Hawley will get more of that kind of money than McCaskill will."

Overall, Smith and Overby said this will be a tight race. 

"McCaskill is vulnerable because she’s a Democrat in a state that has trended Republican in recent decades," Overby said. 

Smith said Democrats are less likely to vote in years when the presidency is not on the ballot. He said McCaskill has her work cut out.

"She's had some good luck in her career, but she is running the race of her life this time because she's running against kind of a Republican head wind with the big margin of victory that Trump had two years ago, and the fact that Missouri is just kind of trending Republicans," he said.

While most polls show McCaskill leading, one of the most recent surveys has Hawley ahead, but within the margin of error.

"Even though there are a lot of people who think she is the most vulnerable U.S. Senator up for re-election this year, you should never count Claire McCaskill out," Smith said.

There is one other thing, Smith said, that could give McCaskill a leg up — her name. He said low-information voters will usually vote one way because they recognize the person's name.

"Name recognition will work for her because she has been in more statewide races than he has," he said.

However, Hawley has national support under his belt, which he said is a big factor in the race. Vice President Mike Pence was just in Missouri with Hawley at his side and President Donald Trump is coming soon for a fundraiser.

Smith said it all comes down to how rural parts of Missouri will vote.

"Hawley is going to do very well in out-state Missouri, places like Springfield. But in order for him to win the election, he has to do very well and Claire McCaskill's campaign strategy has been to do town hall meetings all over the state and to just get out in the country and to talk with rural voters," Smith said.

Strategy is important for both Hawley and McCaskill.

"He's more of the sort of the wholesale campaign where he's doing TV ads, kind of fundraisers. His campaign is less hands on, less get together with the people in smaller groups than hers," Smith said. "We'll see which one works."

(This article has been edited to include additional information.)