U.S. Representative Todd Akin won the Missouri Republican Senate primary, setting up a Nov. 6 showdown with incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill, who already has endured an onslaught of negative ads tying her to a president whose popularity has fallen in the state.
Akin won 36 percent of the vote yesterday to 30 percent for St. Louis businessman John Brunner and 29 percent for former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman with 99 percent of the precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press.
“The choice is clear in November,” Akin said in a statement released by his campaign last night. “Claire McCaskill voted for big government, big spending, and less liberty. I will vote for less government, less spending, and more liberty.”
Michigan, Kansas and Washington also held primaries, with two House Democrats, Michigan’s Hansen Clarke and Missouri’s Russ Carnahan, losing their seats to other incumbents in match-ups caused by redistricting.
Akin’s victory in Missouri follows upset victories by Tea Party-backed candidates in Senate Republican contests in Texas and Indiana. A six-term lawmaker, Akin, 65, had trailed Brunner in two recent polls. He was endorsed by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a leader of the evangelical wing of the Republican Party.
Unlike in Texas and Indiana, the Tea Party favorite in Missouri lost. Steelman, 54, had the endorsement of the Tea Party Express and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Brunner, 60, was endorsed by business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
In the days leading up to the primary, McCaskill and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee unveiled an ad calling Akin “too conservative” for Missouri, which may have given him a boost with primary voters.
Still, polls show that McCaskill, 59, faces an uphill battle to win a second term as Republicans link her campaign to President Barack Obama’s re-election bid. Akin led McCaskill by 5 percentage points in a Mason-Dixon poll conducted July 23-25.
Just 34 percent of Missourians view Obama favorably, according to the Mason-Dixon poll. It also showed Romney with a 9 percentage point lead over Obama in the state.
“I think she’s going to go down; I don’t think that she has much hope,” said Ken Warren, an independent pollster and political science professor at Saint Louis University.
McCaskill might see a slight improvement in her poll numbers now that the field has been set, Warren said. “But she is trailing by so much that I kind of doubt it.”
McCaskill said in a statement last night that Akin has “made it clear he would side with extreme politicians in Washington to privatize Medicare and Social Security, end student loans, and protect tax giveaways for corporations that ship Missouri jobs overseas.”
“When Missourians have a chance to hear what Akin really stands for, they’ll take a look at my record and see that I’ve always been an independent voice standing on the side of Missouri’s families,” she said.
McCaskill was one of the first senators to publicly support Obama in his 2008 primary race against then-Senator Hillary Clinton. She has been targeted by more than 9,000 negative ads sponsored by Republican-aligned outside groups, according to data compiled by Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks campaign advertising.
Crossroads GPS, a group that Karl Rove, a former George W. Bush political adviser, helped create, has aired 5,398 negative spots, more than any other group. The most frequently aired Crossroads ad is titled “ObamaClaire,” focusing on her support for the 2010 federal health-care law.
Among the ad’s claims is that the measure cuts half a trillion dollars in benefits for Medicare enrollees. The law, which scales back payments to health-care providers, doesn’t reduce benefits for current Medicare recipients.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the second-largest contributor to the anti-McCaskill ad blitz, ran 2,819 spots. That includes a claim the health-care law will “kill jobs” and that McCaskill cast a deciding vote for it.
McCaskill said the voters she meets as she campaigns are turned off by the negative ads. She said one man in rural Missouri told her, “Don’t worry. They’re trying to tenderize you before they pick a candidate.”
In Michigan, former Representative Pete Hoekstra won the Republican Senate primary and will challenge Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow in November.
Hoekstra won 54 percent of the vote to 34 percent for Clark Durant with 99 percent of the precincts reporting, according to the AP tally. Durant, 63, is co-founder of a group of Detroit charter schools.
Hoekstra, 58, who served in the U.S. House from 1993 to 2011, has consistently trailed Stabenow, 62, in polls.
In one of his ads, which aired during the Super Bowl on Feb. 5, an Asian woman speaking awkward English dubbed Stabenow “Debbie Spend-It-Now.” The ad drew criticism from local minority groups.
In Missouri’s newly drawn 1st Congressional district, Carnahan, who has served in the House since 2005, lost to six-term Representative William Lacy Clay Jr. after redistricting forced a primary face-off between the two St. Louis Democrats.
Clay, 56, won 63 percent of the vote to 34 percent for Carnahan, 54, with 99 percent of the precincts reporting, according to the AP.
Both men have political roots in the state. Clay’s father, William Lacy Clay Sr., served in Congress from 1969-2001. Carnahan is the son of former Governor Mel Carnahan and U.S. Senator Jean Carnahan.
In another Democratic primary in Michigan’s newly drawn 14th Congressional district, Representative Gary Peters, 54, beat Clarke, 55, a freshman.
Peters won 47 percent of the vote compared with 35 percent for Clarke with 99 percent of precincts reporting, according to the AP.