Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., has his first high-profile Democratic challenger, Marine veteran Lucas Kunce, who launched a run Friday by highlighting Hawley's actions on Jan. 6, 2021.
Two years after the riot at the Capitol, Kunce announced his bid with a two-minute launch video that features a photo of Hawley raising his fist as he entered the Capitol, vowing to object to certifying the 2020 election results. A few hours after Hawley made that gesture, a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters stormed the Capitol. Kunce's video also features footage of Hawley running from the Senate floor as the attack unfolded.
"I swear this coward's always running from something," Kunce says in the video.
"When things get tough, Missourians deserve a U.S. senator who will stand up for 'em, not run away," Kunce later adds. "That's why I'm running to replace Josh Hawley."
The Marine veteran made an unsuccessful run for Senate last year in the open seat race to replace retiring GOP Sen. Roy Blunt. He won 38% of the vote in the Democratic primary, and lost by 5 points to Trudy Busch Valentine, a self-funding heiress to the Anheuser-Busch fortune.
During the race, Kunce cast himself as a "populist" and he proved to be a strong grassroots fundraiser, raising $5.6 million and spending most of it during the race. As of Sept. 30, Kunce's campaign had just $26,000 on hand, while Hawley's campaign had $4 million.
“We welcome this desperate woke activist to yet another political race,” Hawley campaign adviser Kyle Plotkin, who ran Hawley’s 2018 race and served as his chief of staff, said in a statement to NBC News. “He just barely finished losing his last one. Maybe he’s running in the wrong state.”
Hawley, who is up for a second term in 2024, is expected to have an advantage in the Show Me State, which has shifted to the right in recent election cycles. Trump won the state by 15 percentage points in 2020, after Hawley defeated former Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill by 6 points in 2016.