By SUMMER BALLENTINE - Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is taking a first step toward challenging Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill in 2018, possibly setting up marquee race between a veteran and a political newcomer.

Hawley’s spokesman Scott Paradise on Wednesday confirmed the Republican will launch an exploratory committee this week.

The 37-year-old first-time officeholder is considered a rising star in the Republican Party. Before winning office in November, he worked as an associate professor at the University of Missouri School of Law and was part of a team of about 15 lawyers in a U.S. Supreme Court case in which Hobby Lobby and other businesses challenged a federal requirement to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives for employees.

Vice President Mike Pence earlier in July called Hawley about the race, and former Missouri Sen. John Danforth and prominent donor David Humphreys are among several high-profile Republicans who in April released a public letter encouraging Hawley. Big Missouri donor Sam Fox sent a June letter that asked other GOP donors not to give to other candidates while Hawley decided whether to run.

Republicans see Hawley as a strong candidate against McCaskill, 64, who is among 10 Senate Democrats running in states won by President Donald Trump. While McCaskill is vulnerable she’s also a skilled campaigner and is positioning herself as a moderate in a state that has trended toward the Republicans in recent years.

(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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