Missouri's top-ranking Democrat is on her way out of elective politics, taking with her the last vestiges of Missouri's former status as a "purple" state.
Sen. Claire McCaskill's exit is a loss not only to Missouri, which has enjoyed responsible and effective representation from her during her dozen years in the Senate, but to our national political system as well. As one of the few remaining moderates in an increasingly polarized Congress, McCaskill's voice of reason will be missed.
McCaskill, 65, a two-term senator, lost her bid for a third term in November to Republican Josh Hawley and delivered her farewell address to the Senate on Thursday. McCaskill told the Post-Dispatch's Chuck Raasch that she won't seek elective office again, ending speculation about a possible gubernatorial bid.
But she vowed to remain politically active in supporting roles, potentially including working with Democratic legislative candidates. "I am not going to disappear," she said.
That's good to know. McCaskill brought to her Senate seat the toughness of a former prosecutor — as in her spearheading of landmark sex-trafficking legislation — along with the compassion of someone who has known modest circumstances.
As a Rolla native and former single mom who waitressed her way through Mizzou, it's ironic that one of the biggest knocks McCaskill endured as a senator was for her considerable wealth, the result of marriage. McCaskill's wealth seemed always to be at the center of her relatively rare missteps, including the 2011 revelation of her use of public funds for flights in her private plane.
But what ultimately tripped her up was the political story of these times: the ideological polarization of the country, separating Americans person by person, region by region, state by state.
Missouri is among the most dramatic examples. It is a longtime battleground state that, in a few short years, has shifted tectonically to its current status as solid-red Republican. It's a shift that happened right under McCaskill's feet.
By this year, McCaskill's enduring reputation as America's most middle-of-the-road senator was still arguably accurate, but the political currency that accompanied it was spent. Conservative voters weren't interested in backing any Democrat, no matter how many rural town hall meetings she hosted; liberals viewed her every outreach to the right as a slap in the face.
We at the St. Louis-Post Dispatch endorsed McCaskill, and we still believe she deserved re-election. But, prompted by both political necessity and personal philosophy, she tried to navigate a centerline that may not be navigable today. American voters increasingly don't want to hear about working with those on the other ideological side; they want to hear about beating them.
To her credit, McCaskill refused to the end to abandon the middle ground. Hopefully, America's politics will someday return to a place where voters on all sides appreciate the value in that.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH