Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Missouri Senate Primary Fits into Tea Party Strategy for Election 2012

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Missouri Senate Primary Fits into Tea Party Strategy for Election 2012

Article excerpt

Three Republican candidates - all with tea party ties - are vying in Tuesday's Missouri primary for the chance to take on Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in the fall. GOP takeover of the Senate is a top tea party aim.

The battle over which party will control the US Senate next year intensifies Tuesday in Missouri, as three Republican candidates vie for the chance to take on struggling blue-dog Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill in the general election.

The Missouri primary comes as the national tea party movement, after showing its strength last week in elections in Georgia and Texas, zeroes in on the race as part of an emerging strategy to ensure that any potential Republican majority in the Senate takes hardline stands on debt, deficits, taxes, and spending - and would act to gut some of President Obama's biggest achievements.

Republicans are expected to retain their majority in the House. Mr. Obama and presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney are locked in a bruising fight for the White House. Democrats, meanwhile, have a four-seat advantage in the Senate. Toss-up races in Nebraska, Wisconsin, Virginia, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Massachusetts may all become critical to which party holds the Senate. But Tuesday's Missouri primary holds particular import for Republicans - and its strong-arming tea party wing.

"It's safe to say that Missouri is a must-win for the Republicans if they're going to take the Senate back," says Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University, in Houston. "If they don't win the Missouri Senate seat, they'll have to run the table in the other states."

As for the tea party, he adds, "it's like in poker: They're going all in, doubling down, pushing through, not trying to tentatively make gradual changes, but trying to enact wholescale reform."

Three Republicans - millionaire businessman John Brunner, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, and current US Rep. Todd Akin, a conservative Christian - all have a good shot, polls suggest, at unseating Senator McCaskill in November, partly due to the state's sharp turn to the right under Obama and to a mini-scandal involving McCaskill's charging taxpayers for rides she took in a plane she co- owns. (McCaskill, a proponent of more oversight into congressional expenditures, paid the money back, not because any laws were broken but because of, a spokeswoman said, "the optics of the bigger picture.")

While Missouri has one of the nation's largest conglomerations of tea party groups, Tuesday's primary differs significantly from last week's GOP primary in Texas, where the tea party favorite, Ted Cruz, beat the establishment candidate, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, by a shocking 14-point margin to become the likely successor to retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

In Missouri, tea party support is spread across all three candidates, with Ms. Steelman receiving an endorsement from Sarah Palin, Mr. Akin receiving one from US Rep. Michele Bachmann, and Mr. Brunner being endorsed by the tea-party-friendly FreedomWorks group in Washington.

Polls show Brunner and Steelman as most likely to fare best against McCaskill. But all three have campaigned on limiting Washington's power and reach.

McCaskill, who is trying to distance herself from Obama and other Democratic leaders (in part by skipping the National Democratic Convention in Charlotte, N.C.), is likely to try to define the narrative as the Missouri race heats up: She is already fighting back by appealing to Missourians' sense of moderation against the possibility of a radicalized Senate heavily influenced by the tea party.

"They're all the same," McCaskill tells Politico. "They all want to get out of the UN, they're all for privatizing Medicare, they're all for privatizing Social Security. …

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