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Sen. Hawley faces no real political ramifications back home for Jan. 6 actions

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Year ago today, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley created one of the lasting images of protesters storming the Capitol when he raised his fist in support of them. He was one of a few senators who disputed Joe Biden's victory despite no evidence of pervasive fraud. But a year later, the Missouri senator faces no real political ramifications back at home. Steve Vockrodt of the Midwest Newsroom reports.

STEVE VOCKRODT, BYLINE: Last January, Republican Josh Hawley had been in the Senate for barely two years. Elected at 39 after serving briefly as Missouri's attorney general, he was seen by many in the party as a politician on the rise. But that seemed to be at risk for Hawley after the January 6 events and his vote against certifying election results. Some of the biggest companies in Missouri and elsewhere stopped supporting him. The two largest newspapers in the state openly called for him to resign. His mentor, former Republican Senator John Danforth, repudiated his actions. But now, a year later, it appears Hawley has hardly paid a political price in the state that's taken a hard swing to the right in recent years. Terry Smith teaches political science at Columbia College in Missouri.

TERRY SMITH: What happened last January to Josh is kind of what's happened to a lot of the individuals who have been associated with the insurrection, and that is not much. Many of them are not being held to account. And it's kind of nothing to see here. Life goes on.

VOCKRODT: And Senator Hawley appears to have no regrets. While he did not agree to be interviewed for this story, his office released a statement this week blaming the political left for attempting to use the events of January 6 to promote a climate of fear. According to a poll last summer by Saint Louis University and YouGov, Hawley's popularity has grown. It found more Missouri voters approved of his performance than they did a year before. It pegged Hawley at a 52% approval rating, which is above average for a U.S. senator according to Kenneth Warren, the associate director of the poll. Warren says Hawley's numbers dipped quickly after the Capitol storming but then bounced back.

KENNETH WARREN: His exact role that he played had been forgotten or forgiven - probably mostly forgotten.

VOCKRODT: And likely in part because of the weak state of the Missouri Democratic Party, which not too long ago was competitive here. Before the 2016 elections, Democrats occupied all but one of Missouri's six statewide offices. Now it's down to one. Again, Columbia College professor Terry Smith.

SMITH: There's no Democratic leadership in Missouri, basically, to step out and say, I'm going to lead the crusade here to make sure that Senator Hawley answers for what he did.

VOCKRODT: While big corporations have largely steered away from donating to his campaign, Hawley raised more than $7 million last year, much of it coming from small contributors living outside of Missouri. Some Midwest Republicans face a far more challenging climate. Take, for example, Don Bacon, a Nebraska congressman who's willing to say what Hawley and some of his Republican colleagues won't.

DON BACON: I would say Joe Biden won the election. And I could see it in my own district.

VOCKRODT: Bacon also criticizes Republican colleagues who downplayed what occurred a year ago today.

BACON: Certainly, to call them tourists, that's not right (laughter), you know? I just want to be honest. What happened that day was wrong.

VOCKRODT: Former President Donald Trump, who still wields considerable sway over Republican politicians, this week called for someone to run against Don Bacon in this year's primary. Given his widespread popularity here, Josh Hawley is thought to have presidential aspirations. But if he runs for reelection to the Senate, the storming of the Capitol is unlikely to hurt him in the Republican primary.

For NPR News, I'm Steve Vockrodt in Kansas City.

(SOUNDBITE OF C.A.R.'S "YOGA IN KARACHI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Vockrodt