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McCaskill Says Progressives Don't Understand What It's Like To Be A Democrat In Missouri

Luke X. Martin
KCUR 89.3 file photo
Former Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill is pictured after an October interview at KCUR.

Former Missouri U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill said she’s “doing great” after losing her re-election bid. She’s known for being outspoken, and seems even more so now that she’s out of office.

She addressed a number of topics in a wide-ranging interview Friday on KCUR’s Up to Date with host Steve Kraske. Here are the highlights:

On new Democrats

McCaskill told CNN in December that  she wished U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York well but called her a “bright, shiny new object.”

Ocasio-Cortez beat a high-ranking member of House Democratic leadership in her district’s primary in August, and since taking office has been a major Twitter presence and called President Trump a racist on national TV.

McCaskill said Friday that her larger point was that progressives like Ocasio-Cortez need to have patience with Democrats from more moderate areas. 

“Missouri is a lot different than her district in New York,” McCaskill said. “And I just think she's needs to be patient with those Democrats that agree with her on so many issues that are from places that aren't quite as blue is where she's from, and not be so critical and be willing to kneecap them like she has appeared to be willing to do in terms of coming out in primaries against incumbents and stuff like that.”

McCaskill also said that a lack of compromise in Washington will lead to more gridlock and more cynicism from voters.

“You not going to get an immigration bill that the new congresswoman wants, you’re not going to one that (Republican Sen.) Tom Cotton wants,” McCaskill said. ‘You’re going an immigration bill that’s somewhere in the middle. And I think the skill that is needed to speak to that middle and to be part of the middle is something that is not very valued right now.”

On the 2020 presidential race

Democrats need a presidential candidate who is inspirational and “speaks to the future as opposed to the past,” McCaskill said. 

She added that fundraising will be a factor — and not just when it comes to big donors.

“There is going to be a grassroots straw poll through low-dollar donations that will speak volumes about who's inspirational,” she said. “Obviously (former Texas U.S. Rep.) Beto (O’Rourke) was amazing in that regard. He raised $80 million through low-dollar donations.”

As for the candidates themselves, she said politicians like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and California Sen. Kamala Harris all have positive attributes, but could stumble in appealing to suburban and exurban voters in the Midwest because they are from blue states.

On losing her Senate seat

McCaskill said she was pleased with the fundraising and support she garnered in her bid for a third term, noting she did better than any other Democrat had ever done in a midterm election in Missouri. But she said three factors helped Republicans close any enthusiasm gap, thus electing current U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley.

“It was the optics of the caravan (of Central American migrants), it was the optics of the (Brett) Kavanaugh confirmation and it was the camping out of Donald Trump in our state," she said. "And those three things got all of the reddest parts of our state off the couch and they turned out in record numbers. 

“We were running double digits ahead of Republicans in terms of enthusiasm about voting and then their side spiked. And obviously that's what happened in November, more of them live in Missouri than us.”

McCaskill said she’s now working to help the Democratic party in her home state.

“I feel very strongly about mentoring and helping candidates in Missouri. I will not buy into this notion that Democrats are done in Missouri. I disagree with it, I think it's wrong,” she said. “I think it's people who don't have the perspective I have of history  where this pendulum has swung back and forth a number of times over the last 50 years in Missouri.”

Samuel King is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter: @SamuelKingNews

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