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
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
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
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
"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. …