The most recent poll of next year’s Missouri Senate race shows a Republican political novice leading an incumbent Democrat who’s held a statewide office since 1999.

Republican Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is running for the U.S. Senate

Last week’s survey from the GOP leaning Remington Research Group of 965 likely voters showed state Attorney General Josh Hawley, who was elected to his first public office last November, ahead of two-term U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill by a margin of 48%-to-45%.

Columbia College Political Scientist Terry Smith see’s trouble in those numbers for McCaskill, chiefly because the number of undecided voters is less than 10%.

“That’s an amazingly low number for a poll that is this far from an election,” said Smith.  “That would be the thing that would be concerning to me, because Democrats don’t have much room for maneuver within those numbers.”

The poll showed 7% of voters are undecided in the Senate race.

Election watchers, including Smith have said that McCaskill has a clear, but narrow path to victory.  She must dominate the Democratic leaning urban areas of St. Louis and Kansas City, while cutting her losses in the Republican stronghold of rural Missouri.

Dr. Terry Smith Columbia College

Smith thinks McCaskill and her Democratic supporters will need to do something dramatic to disrupt Hawley’s early lead, given the state’s increasing trend toward the Republican Party. “The Democrats have to do something to move that needle.  “Otherwise, Hawley’s just going to stay ahead.”

History shows that if anyone can emerge victorious in the face of strong political headwinds in the Show-Me State, it would be McCaskill.  She has a strong track record in statewide races, having twice been elected Missouri Auditor in 1998 and 2002.

And after narrowly losing the 2004 governor’s race to Republican Matt Blunt, she defeated GOP incumbent Jim Talent in the 2006 election for the U.S. Senate.  McCaskill held onto the seat in 2012.

Jennifer E. Duffy with the Cook Political Report, who moved the Missouri contest to the toss-up category in August after Hawley signaled an interest in the race, doesn’t think McCaskill can be counted out at any point in the election.  “McCaskill is a very aggressive campaigner, and I expect nothing less from her in this race,” Duffy said.

Smith thinks the fact that Hawley is leading the race less than a year removed from being a college professor is striking, given that Missourians have traditionally rewarded longevity.  “Everybody who has gotten elected Senator in Missouri, holy cow, I’m going back into the 60’s now, has a lengthy public service pedigree in Missouri.”

Still, numerous national outlets are giving Hawley the nod by ranking the Missouri race as the most likely Democratic Senate seat likely to flip.

CNN said “(Missouri’s) Republican tilt and Hawley’s status as a top-tier challenger make this perhaps the GOP’s strongest pick-up opportunity”.

The Hill noted the Club for Growth pledged $10 million to support Hawley in August, while spotlighting McCaskill’s uphill battle as “one of the few statewide Democratic officeholders left in Missouri, which Trump won by 19 points in November”.

President Trump has watched his approval ratings erode into the 30’s nationally since being elected, although his base has remained firmly with him.

According to the recent Remington Research poll, Trump is still in positive territory in Missouri with his job performance being approved by 48% of likely voters, versus 47% who disapprove.

Smith believes the Senate race will be influenced by the popularity level of Trump, but thinks it could be risky for Hawley to align himself policy wise with the President.  “Finding out what Trump believes is like trying to pin fog to a wall, because it’s constantly shifting, and it’s hard to know for sure how much substance there is to it.”.

Interestingly, Hawley vigorously embraced Trump’s tax plan Wednesday in a conference with reporters.

The Remington Research poll did not include the three other Republicans who are running for the Senate seat – Austin Peterson, Raffaele Antonio Monetti and Courtland Sykes.