No clear frontrunner in race to take on McCaskill

Monday, May 23, 2011

WASHINGTON -- From the moment she was elected in 2006, defeating U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill became a top priority for the Missouri GOP in 2012.

A little more than a year before voters select a nominee, Republicans are facing a crowded primary, which could leave the eventual nominee worn down and with less cash by the time the general election campaign starts. Instead of one standard-bearer in place to take the fight to McCaskill, the party has three potential candidates: former state treasurer Sarah Steelman and Rep. Todd Akin, who have both entered the race, and St. Louis businessman John Brunner, who is considering a run.

Each one of them brings something to the race. But none of them have the sort of statewide prominence and name recognition of McCaskill. It's a situation that means, until the primary in August 2012, Republicans will be focusing their energy on each other and wooing partisan voters.

Democrats couldn't be happier.

"We are gleeful over here," said Steve Bough, the Jackson County Democratic Party chairman. "Just watching the other side have a fistfight in the dugout before the game even starts? It's fantastic."

How the race shapes up will go a long way to determining whether Republicans can take back the Senate in 2012. Democrats currently hold a narrow 53-47 majority in the Senate, including two independents who caucus with Democrats. McCaskill's seat is one of the GOP's top targets.

Of the current field, Steelman, 53, was the first to announce her candidacy. She is a former state senator who served as Missouri treasurer from 2005 to 2009 and had toyed with a challenge to then-representative Roy Blunt in the 2010 Republican Senate primary before ultimately deciding to campaign for Blunt. Steelman also gained a following among some tea party activists.

Steelman's fundraising numbers for the first quarter of 2011 put her well behind McCaskill. She had roughly $194,000 in her campaign account at the end of March, a fraction of McCasklil's $1.9 million.

But Steelman is familiar to Missouri voters. Brunner, who has said he could partially fund his own campaign, is a virtual unknown. The 59-year-old from the St. Louis suburb of Frontenac is the chairman of Missouri-based Vi-Jon, a health care manufacturer, and would bring business bona fides. But he lacks an established track record like his potential primary opponents or McCaskill.

Akin, who announced his candidacy Tuesday, is a St. Louis-area congressman who notes he is a member of the tea party caucus in Congress. The 63-year-old is a fiscal and social conservative who has a 98 percent voting record with the American Conservative Union. Akin is also the candidate who, at the moment, is the most competitive with McCaskill in terms of fundraising. He had about $910,000 in his campaign account at the end of the first quarter.

Akin's appeal has never been tested outside of his district. In six terms in Congress he hasn't faced a competitive race since his first primary more than a decade ago.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: