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As Akin Gets In, GOP Worries About Missouri Field

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Six-term GOP Rep. Todd Akin is expected to announce his candidacy today in the Missouri Senate race.

And then there is Brunner, who told the Associated Press last month that he would contribute some of his personal wealth to the campaign, in addition to fundraising. A political novice, Brunner is the chairman of Vi-Jon Inc., a cosmetics and health care products manufacturer based in Missouri that makes items such as body wash and hand sanitizer. He plans to emphasize his business bona fides and his status as a Washington outsider, according to Brunner consultant John Hancock.

The Republican nominee won’t be known until after the August 2012 primary, but a year and a half before Election Day, Republicans say McCaskill’s weaknesses are obvious. Top among them is her support for President Barack Obama’s stimulus and health care laws. In August 2010, Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved — 71 percent to 29 percent — Proposition C, a symbolic measure that rejected the health care law by denying the government the authority to mandate health insurance.

McCaskill has been a close ally for Obama, who will be at the top of the ballot in 2012. Obama lost the state by 3,903 votes in 2008, but Republicans believe he is less likely to come so close in 2012, and they hope he’ll drag other Democrats down with him. Gov. Jay Nixon (D) will also be on the ballot next fall. A Public Policy Polling automated telephone poll this month found 53 percent of Missouri voters disapproved of the president’s job performance versus 43 percent who approved.

McCaskill has built her reputation on holding people who use government money accountable and promoting transparency in government affairs — she is chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight. But her brand was tarnished by revelations that she had billed taxpayers for a political trip on her family’s private plane and, more substantively, had not paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in property taxes on that plane. She later paid back taxes and wrote a check to the government for the improperly billed travel.

But McCaskill also has the strength of incumbency, a reputation as an independent, a substantial war chest ($1.8 million in cash on hand at the end of March) and support from national Democrats who recognize she is vulnerable.

McCaskill allies say concerns about health care and private planes will be distant memories by November 2012.

And Democrats in Missouri say not to underestimate the power of her potent public speaking and campaigning skills.

“She’s the best communicator politician on either side of the aisle in the state of Missouri. That’s where I think Todd Akin and any of the Republicans have some trouble,” said Mike Kelley, a political strategist based in Missouri and the former leader of the state Democratic party.

Whoever her GOP challenger ends up being, the race will likely be very close. In the wave election year of 2006, McCaskill narrowly unseated then-Sen. Jim Talent (R), winning by just more than 48,000 votes.

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