Rep. Todd Akin won a tightly contested GOP primary for Senate today and advances to face vulnerable Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) in November.
The six-term conservative Member beat out businessman John Brunner and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman for the Senate nomination. Akin had 36 percent of the vote, with 74 percent of precincts reporting. Brunner and Steelman followed and were separated by less than 1 point.
In Akin, Democrats get the nominee they hoped to face — in fact the party played some part in pushing him to victory.
McCaskill spent significant campaign funds airing an ad that called the Congressman out for being too conservative. This appeared to be an effort to boost Akin, who was seen as the weakest general election candidate in the GOP race. Missouri political insiders saw the McCaskill tactic as too-cute-by-half, unless it worked, and it did. (See ad below.)
Akin was also boosted by a base of evangelical voters, an endorsement from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) and momentum that picked up in recent days.
Akin’s victory leaves the Missouri race as a true Tossup. Although Akin led McCaskill in a horse-race matchup in a recent public poll, both Republicans and Democrats in the state see him vulnerable to a few different lines of attack. The main one appears to be he is too conservative, even for a conservative-leaning state.
He is not seen as a particularly good or disciplined campaigner. Last year he said that “at the heart of liberalism, really, is a hatred for God and a belief that government should replace God.” He later walked back that remark.
He also has been a strong supporter of earmarks, a practice none too popular these days. And that may allow McCaskill, who vociferously opposes them, to outflank him on the issue.
The Democratic knives were already out for Akin.
Mike Kelley, a St. Louis Democrat who is a former executive director of the Missouri Democratic Party, said Akin represented only a very narrow swath of voters in the state.
“His views, while extremely conservative — and you could make the case the Missouri is conservative-leaning — are far more drastic than where mainstream Missourians are, and his rhetoric doesn't add up with his record,” Kelley said. “He talks about fiscal responsibility, but there's probably no more pork-prone Congressman than Todd Akin."
McCaskill has worked to paint herself as a moderate Senator.
Still, Akin has one big advantage over McCaskill: He’s a Republican in a state that will almost certainly vote for Mitt Romney in November. And while Missourians, by and large, know McCaskill, they don’t have a very good impression of her. Akin is not particularly well-known or well-defined, which gives both Democrats and Republicans an opening to tell general election voters who he is.
Here's the McCaskill ad that was viewed as a means of boosting Akin in the primary: