Missouri attorney general moves to challenge Sen. McCaskill

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley will take the first step toward challenging incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill later this week, his spokesman said on Wednesday, potentially setting up a marquee 2018 race between a crafty Democratic veteran and a political newcomer touted as a rising star in the Republican party.

Spokesman Scott Paradise said Hawley, 37, will launch an exploratory committee this week as part of his "process to consider becoming a candidate." An exploratory committee will allow Hawley to start raising money without officially entering the race.

McCaskill and Missouri Democrats wasted little time criticizing Hawley, who was elected to his current post in 2016. The Missouri Democratic Party late last month launched a digital ad suggesting he's using his election to attorney general as a stepping stone to higher office, and on Wednesday sent out a copy of a tweet he sent during his campaign last year that slammed the state capital as being "full of insiders just climbing the political ladder."

"Josh Hawley must want to set some kind of record - just a few months after promising Missourians he wouldn't be a ladder-climbing politician, he decides he'd rather run for the next office than do the job he was elected to do," McCaskill campaign manager David Kirby said in a statement.

Before becoming attorney general, Hawley worked as an associate professor at the University of Missouri School of Law and was part of a team of about 15 lawyers in a U.S. Supreme Court case in which Hobby Lobby and other businesses challenged a federal requirement to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives for employees.

Vice President Mike Pence earlier in July called Hawley about the race, and former Missouri Sen. John Danforth and prominent donor David Humphreys are among several high-profile Republicans who in April released a public letter encouraging Hawley. Big Missouri donor Sam Fox sent a June letter that asked other GOP donors not to give to other candidates while Hawley decided whether to run.

Republicans see Hawley as a strong candidate against McCaskill, 64, who is among 10 Senate Democrats running in states won by President Donald Trump. While McCaskill is vulnerable, she's also a skilled campaigner and is positioning herself as a moderate in a state that has trended toward the Republicans in recent years.

Paradise in a statement added that Hawley's state campaign committee "has ceased expenditures and the soliciting or accepting of donations while he considers becoming a federal candidate." Hawley can't use money raised through that state committee for a federal race.

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