Members of the Missouri Farm Bureau's political action committee got a clear picture Friday of differences between incumbent U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, and her Republican challenger, Attorney General Josh Hawley.
"We think our country's at a critical turning point," Hawley told the PAC members from 86 Missouri counties. "We think agriculture is at a critical turning point and is a critical part of our future."
He said our "way of life is under threat by D.C. bureaucrats, by elitist liberals on the coasts, (and) by liberals in the media, who want to mock our values, take away our jobs (and) take away our farms."
McCaskill said she already has stood up for Missouri agriculture and against the wishes of her party's leaders.
"If you're not willing to challenge your own party when it's hurting the number one industry in your state, when are you going to be willing to challenge it?" she asked.
If elected, Hawley said, he would work to dismantle federal bureaucracies "that are trying to impose their anti-ag regulations on us," get "better trade deals" for American products overseas, maintain and improve renewable fuels standards and rewrite health care laws to "get costs down, cover people with pre-existing conditions, (and) give folks more options."
He said the government should repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, because it caused the explosion in health care costs — and he said individual states should have more say in health care and insurance regulations.
McCaskill said she has opposed the administration's health care proposals "that would have charged you guys five times as much for health insurance as people who lived in the cities" and charged more to insure women because they are women.
Hawley said McCaskill had "supported every left-wing, environmentalist-wacko regulation on Missouri farms that the last (Obama) administration had to offer, with hardly a peep."
McCaskill said she's "tried to be a moderating force on some of the regulations. I know I haven't been perfect, as you would want me to be.
"I do think the EPA has an important job, but common sense is needed and they go too far."
President Donald Trump has traveled to Missouri several times to help raise money for Hawley's campaign, and Hawley said Friday: "The president helped convince me to run for this office — this was not something I was planning to do. The president needs reinforcements."
McCaskill said she has "voted for the majority of his cabinet members (and) for two-thirds of his judicial nominees," and she wants to work with Trump's administration to improve infrastructure in the country.
She said she hasn't decided how she'll vote on Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump's nominee for a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court — but she's reading the opinions he's written as an appeals court judge and looking for answers to three questions: what he's said about "dark money," where people can contribute to campaigns without being identified; how he feels about people using the courts when Congress can't agree on something; and his opinion in cases where "it's the little guy against the big guy."
Hawley repeated his claim that McCaskill "had to ask for permission" from the Senate's Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, of New York, before she arranged an interview with Kavanaugh.
"No Missouri senator should ask permission from anybody to represent the state of Missouri," he said.
McCaskill rejected that claim.
"The notion that somebody would come in here and try to sell you on the notion that I take orders from Chuck Schumer — give me a break," she told the Farm Bureau. "I don't take orders from anybody, except the people of Missouri. I think you guys know I have an independent streak — I hope Missourians know it."
Hawley said he supports Trump's efforts to get better trade deals by challenging other countries' trade policies but said a long trade war will hurt Missouri farmers and businesses.
"We're in a trade war that we did not start," he said. "This president is trying to fight back. The goal has to be open markets for farmers."
McCaskill said the trade war should have been avoided.
"The damage that is being done to Missouri agriculture is inexcusable," she said. "We should be dealing with trade issues — by enforcing the law we have, by going after the Chinese cheaters. You guys don't want bailouts. You don't want handouts. You want predictability. You want certainty. You want the government off your back, and you want markets (to sell to)."
Hawley supports securing the border, including building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
McCaskill said she supports efforts to improve security at the border and "to apply border security aggressively," but "nobody thinks it's a good idea to build (a wall) from sea to shining sea."
Both candidates said the federal government needs to do more to improve locks and dams along the nation's rivers, including the Upper Mississippi north of St. Louis.
Both said the federal government must do more to provide broadband service in rural areas, which would allow them to have true access to internet services.
Both said the federal government should not privatize the U.S. Postal Service, as the Trump administration has proposed. Both said that proposed change likely would hurt rural residents.
Each said they are willing to work across party lines.
The Farm Bureau PAC's rules require at least two-thirds of the delegates' approval before it makes an endorsement — 93 percent of the delegates supported endorsing Hawley.