Missouri Republicans on Tuesday will choose between a trio of Senate hopefuls who have been locked in a tight contest in which all three have jockeyed to present themselves as the most conservative in the bunch. The winner will face Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, considered to be one of the most vulnerable 2012 incumbents.
Businessman John Brunner, Rep. Todd Akin and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman are all vying to take on McCaskill. Brunner led the field in a poll released over the weekend with 35 percent; Akin had 30 percent and Steelman had 25 percent.
“It’s very difficult to predict the race at this point,” a Republican source in Missouri told TPM. “I think for the first time in a very long time, at least in Missouri, we are heading into an Election Day where all three of the candidates really all do have a path to victory.”
Despite the tight race, few ideological disagreements have emerged to distinguish the candidates. More often than not, the only differences have come in terms of degrees. A notable example from the Associated Press:
Akin, for example, warns that the federal government suffers from “stage three cancer of socialism.” Steelman says she became “absolutely, physically ill” when the Supreme Court ruling upheld President Barack Obama’s health care law. And Brunner pumps his hands as he declares: “These regulations are crushing us.”
Akin has a geographic base in the St. Louis suburbs, which he has represented in Congress for 12 years.
Steelman previously represented the state’s central region in the state Senate, and still has support in the southwestern portion of the state.
Brunner, a businessman who has never held elected office, doesn’t have a specific geographic support base but has benefited from blanketing the entire state with TV ads.
Brunner has put nearly $7 million of his own money into the race, and raised $600,000, for a total of $7.6 million — dwarfing Akin’s total fundraising of $2.2 million; and Steelman’s $1.4 million, which included $400,000 she loaned herself, according to federal elections records through July 18.
“[Brunner] was on the air basically running positive spots for months, uncontested, when Todd Akin and Sarah Steelman were not on TV,” the Missouri source said. “I think strategically that was a very smart and important decision they made to go up early — which frankly they had to do because he had no name ID, having never held office before.”
Brunner’s ads have pitched an outsider image, including a recent spot attacking McCaskill and President Obama:
Akin has worked to make himself the candidate of the Christian right, telling voters in one ad that “America was founded on the unique vision that our creator gave us life — the foundation of freedom; liberty, to speak as you choose and own what you earn; and the pursuit of happiness, the call to fully and courageously live the dream God puts in our hearts.”
Steelman has billed herself as a candidate willing to make trouble, a la Sarah Palin, with whom she has drawn comparisons.
“Sarah [Steelman] is an economist who defends our tax dollars — like a mama grizzly defends her cubs,” Palin says in one Steelman ad. “Sarah Steelman earned her reputation as a conservative maverick, blocking pork barrel spending. And Sarah will fight for a constitutional amendment that forces Congress to balance the budget.”