Missouri primary: Tea party win sets up battle for control of Senate (+video)
Embattled Sen. Claire McCaskill now faces US Rep. Todd Akin, who ran on tea party fiscal issues and evangelical social issues, in a race set to turn on sharp ideological contrasts.
Apparently itching for a clear showdown in the battle for the US Senate, Missouri Republicans on Tuesday picked veteran Congressman Todd Akin, a social and fiscal conservative, to take on Sen. Claire McCaskill, a conservative Democrat who voted for President Obamaâ€™s signature health-care legislation as well as a controversial stimulus package.
Tuesdayâ€™s primary election between three small-government conservatives â€“ millionaire businessman John Brunner, former state treasurer Sarah Steelman, and Mr. Akin â€“ had national implications because Missouri is widely seen as a linchpin in the Republican bid to gain control of the Senate, where Democrats now have a four-seat majority.
With his strong antitax stance and opposition to abortion and stem-cell research, Akin won over evangelical voters after lagging behind the other candidates in the polls â€“ a move he credited in part to the endorsement of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), a staunch evangelical, who is currently a Fox News personality.
But Akinâ€™s win also fits into Senator McCaskillâ€™s playbook, guaranteeing a hard-fought and likely tight race going into Novemberâ€™s election. In ads aired before the primary, McCaskill had targeted Akin, whom pollsters saw as the weakest in the Republican field, as the â€śtrue conservativeâ€ť in the race in an attempt to boost his popularity among primary voters.Â Â
In contrast to tea party favorite Ted Cruzâ€™s victory in the Texas primaries last week, Missouri voters had the choice between three candidates who appealed to different splinters of a transforming Republican Party. Mr. Brunner, who spent $7.5 million of his own money on the election, represented the partyâ€™s Chamber of Commerce contingent; Ms. Steelman, endorsed by former GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, had appealed primarily to small-government tea party voters; and Akin, with Mr. Huckabeeâ€™s support, gained traction among Missouriâ€™s large share of evangelical conservatives.
Often outspoken, Akin made news last year after he suggested that â€śthe heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God and a belief that government should replace Godâ€ť â€“ a statement that he later clarified to be directed not against individuals but at â€śliberalismâ€ť as a movement.
Akin emerges from Tuesdayâ€™s primary as the presumptive front-runner. McCaskill has struggled to explain her votes for the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which earned her the nickname â€śObamaClaireâ€ť from critics, as well as the 2009 stimulus act. Outside â€śsuper PACsâ€ť have already spent $15 million in the state to drive home the message that McCaskill is basically Mr. Obamaâ€™s lackey â€“ a message she has fought back against, in part, by refusing to attend the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
In McCaskillâ€™s favor, Akin is the candidate she can most easily paint as a fiscal and social radical, a message that could resonate among the stateâ€™s independent voters. She can also attack Akinâ€™s prodigious use of so-called earmarks, or member projects, to channel federal funds to his district, a tactic decried by many conservative Republicans.
â€śClaire McCaskill will have a real uphill battle in Missouri, given that Obama is at the top of the ticket. But I think national Democrats will adopt a very different strategy toward Missouri depending on [which Republican] wins,â€ť Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said before the final tallies were in on Tuesday.
Akinâ€™s victory, he predicted, would probably lead national Democrats to conclude that Missouri is still very much in play, meaning theyâ€™ll spend more money and resources on ads and grass-roots activities in support of McCaskill.
Given that the power balance in Congress could ride on which way Missouri voters swing, the campaign is likely to be epic.
â€śThe choice is clear in November,â€ť Akin told supporters after his Tuesday night win. â€śThe big-spending, budget-busting, job-killing liberal or the less-spending, balanced-budget, job-creating conservative?â€ť