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Missouri Democrat plans 8 town halls in Trump-friendly areas


ST. LOUIS (AP) — In a year when congressional town hall meetings have often turned angry, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill is wading into predominantly Republican areas of Missouri to host a series of them this week.

McCaskill's first town hall is scheduled for Wednesday at Jefferson College in the eastern Missouri town of Hillsboro. She has plans for seven subsequent meetings this week in potentially hostile counties where Donald Trump won easily in the presidential election, carrying Missouri with more than 65 percent of the vote.

Some of McCaskill's Republican counterparts have heard from angry town hall crowds opposed to Trump's early agenda. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham have been yelled at, heckled and booed. In Oklahoma, U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin canceled a Tuesday evening meeting at a high school in Tahlequah, citing unspecified "safety concerns."

Many members of both houses of Congress are opting to connect with constituents by phone, social media and in controlled environments, rather than town halls.

McCaskill, 63, said it is important to be accountable and allow constituents to share their criticisms and concerns.

"Town halls like these are part of what makes our democracy great, and I think every elected official would benefit from listening and learning from Missourians, face-to-face," McCaskill said in a news release.

She is among 10 Senate Democrats running in 2018 in states won by Trump. Republican Rep. Ann Wagner of suburban St. Louis is a likely contender, and Missouri's newly elected 37-year-old Republican attorney general, Josh Hawley, is being urged to run by supporters who include longtime Republican Sen. John Danforth and prominent donor David Humphreys.

Democrats face a tough battle in the Senate. Republicans already have a 52-48 majority and Democrats are defending 25 seats to the GOP's eight. Republicans are hoping to win a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority.

McCaskill narrowly defeated Republican incumbent Jim Talent in 2006. In 2012, she figured to be in a tough re-election battle until her Republican opponent, Todd Akin, doomed his chances by telling a TV interviewer that women's bodies have ways of preventing pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape."

McCaskill drew criticism from Republicans last week when she voted against confirmation of Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. The Kansas City Star had released audio of her telling donors the decision was difficult because Gorsuch "was one of the better ones" among Trump's possible picks to fill the seat vacated by the death of Antonin Scalia in February 2016.

McCaskill plans to host meetings with constituents Wednesday in Sikeston and Fulton; on Thursday in Hannibal, St. Joseph and Parkville; and on Friday in Springfield and Rolla.

Her Missouri counterpart, Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, has not hosted a town hall since the election. It wasn't clear if he planned to do so. A spokesman did not return a phone message seeking comment.

Reporter, Associated Press