Mo. Senate Seat May Be One Of The Most Vulnerable

U.S. Representative Todd Akin pulled an upset victory on Tuesday in the Missouri GOP primary. His win may have given incumbent Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill her best shot at re-election for a highly contested seat. Akin is a six-term House member from the St. Louis suburbs, and known as an ultra-conservative. He came from behind to beat a businessman who spent more than $7 million of his own money and a former state treasurer backed by Sarah Palin.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Republicans need to capture four seats in November to take control of the Senate. And one of the most vulnerable incumbents is Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri. In the fight to unseat her, Congressman Todd Akin defeated two rivals in yesterday's GOP primary.

NPR's Brian Naylor reports that McCaskill is in a tough spot, but that facing Akin is her best-case scenario.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Todd Akin's win in the Missouri primary came as something of a surprise. He trailed in the most recent poll, and he didn't have the $7.5 million dollars that businessman John Brunner gave his campaign. He didn't get the endorsement of Sarah Palin, as former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman did. But Akin did have the benefit of this ad.

(SOUNDBITE OF A POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The most conservative congressman in Missouri as our senator? Todd Akin, a crusader against bigger government, Akin would completely eliminate the Departments of Education and Energy and privatize Social Security...

NAYLOR: That ad was actually placed by Democrat Claire McCaskill, who backhandedly complimented Akin's conservatism, while at the same time asking whether he was too conservative for Missouri voters.

Akin is a six-term House member from in the St. Louis suburbs. He is in fact among the most conservative House members, with strong ties to evangelical Christians. He ran a consistently positive primary campaign, helped by the endorsement of commentator and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. But in his victory speech last night, Akin signaled he intended to go after McCaskill's record in the general election.

REPRESENTATIVE TODD AKIN: It's a clear choice, one or the other. Claire McCaskill voted for big government, big spending and less liberty. And I'm going to vote for less government, less spending and more liberty.

(APPLAUSE)

NAYLOR: Polling shows McCaskill running closer to Akin than she would have the other two republicans. She still trails him, but political science professor, Peverill Squire, of the University of Missouri, says McCaskill clearly got the challenger she wanted.

PEVERILL SQUIRE: I think its makes it a more competitive race for her. Certainly he presents a large target. He's had to take a lot of votes in Congress. He's managed to vote with conservative Republicans on a number of issues. And he's also been fairly aggressive in getting earmarks, which is something McCaskill has worked against in the Senate. And so, that allows her to at least attempt to position herself in the middle of the political spectrum.

NAYLOR: And McCaskill wasted no time going after Akin. Her campaign launched a website with five videos, in which Akin compares federal student loans to stage 3 cancer, and talks about turning Medicare into a voucher program. Missouri voters can expect to see a lot of those clips in the coming months.

But McCaskill clearly has her work cut out in a state that's been turning increasingly red since her win six years ago, and where outside groups have already spent some $15 million in ads against her, with more surely to come.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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