JEFFERSON CITY — Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill and Republican challenger Josh Hawley kicked off their battle for Missouri's highly sought U.S. Senate seat on Wednesday with a debate about debating.
The candidates' easy primary wins set up a marquee race for a seat in a GOP-dominated state that Republicans staked out as a top target this fall. After coasting to victory, McCaskill and Hawley quickly pivoted to challenging each other to verbal sparring matches, but they disagreed on some of the details.
McCaskill said in addition to a Missouri Press Association debate Sept. 14, she wants four town-hall style debates moderated by local journalists.
"Missourians deserve the same chance to ask you questions and hear your answers as they have consistently had with me," she wrote in a letter to Hawley, referencing the more than 50 town halls she held since 2017 in rural areas of the state where support for President Donald Trump is strong.
Hawley planned a Wednesday event in St. Charles to push the debate issue. He wants unmoderated showdowns "on the back of a flatbed truck" and said town halls are "a good start, but Missourians deserve more."
"These are not debates," Hawley wrote in a Wednesday letter to McCaskill. "Missourians deserve to hear directly from us and to watch as we question each other directly. No stifling rules. No buzzers or bells. No pundits or moderators."
Hawley said he accepted debates with four local broadcast stations, as well as Fox News and CNN.
Hawley so far has tied himself to Trump. McCaskill on Wednesday told reporters that she's an independent voice compared to Hawley and will side with the president when it's good for Missouri or question his policies if they hurt the state.
She also touted high Democratic turnout during the primary, which she said signaled enthusiasm "that will ultimately benefit our side of the equation."