Supporters packed a small office in Springfield to welcome Attorney General Josh Hawley for his 2018 U.S. Senate race.

Missouri Attorney General and Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Josh Hawley

The Attorney General started off by focusing on the vacant seat in the Supreme Court. He says the nomination of a new justice will be the defining issue in this year’s Senate race in Missouri.

“This is the defining issue of American politics. It’s the defining issue for the country,” Hawley said. “It’s something that I care deeply about. It’s my background, It’s been my career.”

He challenged U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill to a debate on the Supreme Court and laid out his criteria for a new justice.

“It needs to be someone who will apply the constitution the way it is written… able to stand up to political pressure,” he said. “Somebody who will apply the law fairly, not based on personal preferences.”

Meanwhile, outside, just across the street from the new office, a few Missourians protested a lawsuit filed by Hawley and other Republicans against the Affordable Care Act.

“Healthcare is an issue that’s really on top of people’s minds, everyone out here will tell you that,” said Brooke Goren, deputy communications director at the Missouri Democratic Party.

If the lawsuit is successful, 2.5 million Missourians who have a pre-existing condition could lose coverage.

“As the race for Senate ramps up, people really care about healthcare,  it’s something they feel strongly about; it affects people day to day. And they want to make sure they have a Senator that will stand up for their health care and Josh Hawley has already shown that he is not that person,” Goren said.

But Hawley says when it comes to healthcare, Missouri and the nation need to start from scratch.

“I support coverage for pre-existing conditions. I think insurance companies should be forced to cover pre-existing conditions,” he said. “What I do not support is big government, big insurance collusion, which is what Obamacare is.”

Hawley also talked about immigration saying he agrees with the President on enforcing the law and the border, but that it’s also imperative to keep families together.  On abortion, he says he is pro-life and would support measures to increase protections for the unborn.

A private fundraising event is taking place for Hawley’s campaign Thursday night. Governor Mike Parson, Billy Long, and other key Republicans are in attendance.

Missourinet media partner KOLR-TV contributed this story