If you'd asked Republicans 12 months ago about their 2018 Senate prospects, they would have been all smiles. Having lost so many winnable Senate races in 2006 and 2012, they seemed bound for big gains. They will have very few seats to defend, and Democrats could be on their back foot in as many as a dozen competitive states.
Things are a bit less rosy now that a Republican president was unexpectedly elected. Yes, the Republicans still have the better playing field, but given the tough environment, they have had a hard time recruiting suitable candidates. In Montana, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, the Republican Party's first-choice candidates have all chosen against running for Senate.
As a result, Democrats' chances of breaking even — probably the best they can do, given that Republicans will be defending only two truly weak seats (Arizona and Nevada) — seemed pretty good.
But Republicans finally got a bit of good news today in Missouri, where they have just gotten their first-choice candidate into the race. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., just barely survived in 2012 by helping an incompetent Republican candidate named Todd Akin win his party primary.
This time, it doesn't look like there's going to be much of a contest in the Republican primary. Attorney General Josh Hawley, a 37-year-old rising star who was just elected in November, has announced that he's in the race to win.
Given the Show Me State's recent shift toward Republicans, and McCaskill's determined efforts to curry favor with her party's left wing, Hawley is probably the favorite already. The Club for Growth polled the race back in July (so take it with a grain of salt) and found him with a modest 46-to-42 percent lead. The bottom line is that Republicans will be fully exploiting at least this one critical Democratic weak point.
Hawley is almost certain to be the nominee next year. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., had previously been expected to run against McCaskill, but she backed out, apparently anticipating Hawley's run. Basically every Republican in the state got out of his way, and the chance for a strong insurgency against him is minimal, given that he already has the Club's backing, and might even be the favored candidate of Steve Bannon and the Breitbart-reading wing of the GOP base.
Republicans will now be waiting in hope for a few more good recruits. One question still to be answered: Whether Florida's Gov. Rick Scott pulls the trigger and challenges the relatively low-profile and popular three-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. Scott, who was once verging on least popular governor in America, squeaked out reelection in 2014 and has since seen his stature grow, especially after his leadership during the recent hurricane season. One poll even has him as the frontrunner. He would bring almost an infinite amount in personal resources to spend, and President Trump has been strongly encouraging him to run for months.