Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is forming an exploratory committee for a possible run at the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Sen. Claire McCaskill.
Prominent Republicans in Missouri and in Washington have encouraged Hawley, a Republican elected as state attorney general in November, to challenge McCaskill, a second-term Democrat. The exploratory committee, confirmed Wednesday, is the clearest signal yet that Hawley intends to do that.
The committee would allow him to begin raising money under federal election rules for the 2018 Republican primary. If he wins that, he would likely face McCaskill in the general election.
McCaskill’s camp and the Missouri Democratic Party were quick to criticize Hawley, questioning his decision to seek national office just months into his first term as a statewide elected official.
McCaskill is seen as a top Senate target for the GOP as a Democrat in a state that Donald Trump won by nearly 19 points last November.
Two Missouri Republicans, U.S. Reps. Ann Wagner and Vicky Hartzler, announced last month that they would not challenge McCaskill in 2018.
Several others are seeking the GOP nomination or are considering a campaign. They include state Rep. Paul Curtman; University of Missouri economics professor Aaron Hedlund; former Missouri Republican Party Chairman Ed Martin; retired Air Force pilot Tony Monetti; and Missouri Treasurer Eric Schmitt.