Missouri Senate race goes down to the wire as battle over health care heats up

Missouri Senate race
Missouri Senate race 03:49

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The midterm elections are three weeks away, with control of Congress hanging in the balance. One of the key races is in Missouri, where polls show Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill locked in a tight re-election battle with her Republican challenger, state Attorney General Josh Hawley. 

McCaskill is fighting for her political life. She's a 65-year-old two-term Democrat in a state that President Trump won in 2016 by nearly 20 points.You could call McCaskill the Missouri compromiser — that rare Democrat who voted nearly half the time in support of President Trump's agenda — and she hasn't kept it a secret.

"I don't do a knee-jerk opposition to the president," she said. "I try to figure out each nomination and each policy position based on the merits and I'm going to have to explain it to Missourians."

When asked if she thinks Mr. Trump's presidency is a success, she said it's a "work in progress."

"I think that's up to voters," McCaskill said.

Sen. Claire McCaskill speaks to "CBS Evening News" anchor Jeff Glor. CBS News

McCaskill's opponent, Josh Hawley, said she hasn't voted with the president on anything that matters. Hawley, the state's attorney general, is a 38-year-old Yale Law School graduate who once clerked for Chief Justice John Roberts. He's a conservative who has hooked himself to the president and, he hopes, to the voters who put him in the White House.

"They did that because he said he would go out and fight for our values and the things we believed in, and I think he's doing that. And so long as he's doing that, I'm going to be for him," Hawley said.

When asked whether he disagreed with the president on any issue, Hawley said he would encourage him "to keep a hard line on spending."

"I think the way that Congress has forced this outrageous spending on him is something that is not good," he said.

Half of Missouri voters are satisfied with the way things are going in the country, but the other half isn't. McCaskill leads among women, while Hawley is ahead among men. One of the key issues is health care, and the attacks have been brutal. Some voters don't like it.

"It kind of muddies the water for me because you don't know what to believe and what not to believe," said Corey Calloway, one voter.

"They are really mad. In fact, they're hopping mad about prescription drug price increases. They are frustrated at the idea that protections for pre-existing conditions and the other consumer protections that are in the law now are in jeopardy," McCaskill said.

Hawley, whose young son suffers from a degenerative bone disease, opposes Obamacare but says he still wants insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions.

"The federal government should directly guarantee that folks who have a pre-existing condition get rates, premiums, deductibles at the same as everybody else," Hawley said.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley with "CBS Evening News" anchor Jeff Glor. CBS News

But he insists that's not the same as mandating people have coverage.

"It just says that those who have pre-existing conditions should be able to buy insurance at the same rates and prices as everybody else," Hawley said.

It's been a bitter fight over the battle to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Hawley would support him, while McCaskill did not.

"The last thing in the world we need is a Supreme Court to be a reflection of what Congress has become: tribal warfare," McCaskill said.

She said there wasn't the same level of tribal warfare in politics when she was first elected.

"All of the noise is generated on the ends of the spectrum. We need more noise in the middle," McCaskill said.

CBS News asked Hawley if he would be able to compromise in office.

"Sure. I think it's about representing the people of your state, so you've got to be willing to cross party lines," Hawley said. "You've got to be willing to be independent. I'll work with anybody on any topic if it's good for the people of my state."

Missouri Senate race 01:27