KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CN) – All eyes are on the Show-Me State as Missouri voters teeter between a Democratic incumbent and a Republican challenger in a race that could determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.
Democrats are passionate about keeping their two-term Senator Claire McCaskill in office, while Republicans are rallying behind Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley in his fight to take over the coveted seat in a state known for voting red.
Poll aggregator RealClearPolitics calls the race a toss up, but shows a slight advantage for Hawley.
In addition to winning new ones, Democrats must keep their Senate seats in states that President Donald Trump carried in the 2016 election – seats like McCaskill’s – if they hope to gain control of Congress.
The final debate between the political rivals was hosted by local ABC affiliate KMBC on Thursday. They tangled over the finer details of health care, border security and gun control.
Both accused the other of making personal attacks in scathing advertising campaigns funded by dark money. Hawley called McCaskill desperate, while she accused him of fraud. The entire debate reflected the heated political climate across the country.
“This is a problem on both sides. We need to turn the temperature down,” McCaskill said.
Hawley, meanwhile, refused to blame the Trump administration or the GOP for nationwide political turmoil.
“It was the Senate Democrats who launched a personal smear campaign against [Supreme Court Justice] Brett Kavanaugh; it was Hillary Clinton and Eric Holder who have encouraged confrontation if not violence,” he said, adding that tribal politics is not what voters deserve.
In a state where President Trump clobbered Hilary Clinton by nearly 20 points in the 2016 election, Hawley is using his alliance with the president to his advantage – although critics say that is exactly why he is not the right candidate for the job.
“I might have taken Hawley seriously if President Trump had not campaigned for him…. [Trump] has no diplomacy and is hurting Republicans,” said Barbara Spangler, a diabetic who can’t afford to lose Obamacare, which Hawley is strongly against. “If we zip his mouth and break his thumbs we’d be fine.”
Spangler knew coming into Thursday’s debate that McCaskill would be getting her vote based on several aligning views, and she left even more committed to her candidate.
“I’ll be honest, if he would have said ‘liberal Democrat’ one more time…I wanted to throw something,” she said after the debate.
Not meant to be a term of endearment, Hawley used the phrase over a dozen times, much to the chagrin of McCaskill and her supporters, who lump Trump and Hawley in the same category.
“You could play a drinking game to how many times he says that and you’d be wasted by the end,” Jerome Johnson said after the debate.
“He’s a phony and strikes me as not genuine,” the federal employee from Kansas City said of Hawley, who touts his Lexington, Missouri, roots but attended Stanford and Yale.
Johnson was also pleased with how McCaskill called out the president on his lies.
“I get that politicians lie, but he lies about things that are clearly and visibly false and she holds him accountable,” he said.