COLUMBIA — Now that the Missouri primaries have determined the who in the contested intraparty races, Missouri just might entertain the most anticipated and lively contest for a U.S. Senate seat in the country. The face-off between the incumbent, Claire McCaskill, and Congressman Todd Akin might be the decider as to who controls the Senate.
Targeted as perhaps the most vulnerable Senate Democrat by the GOP, McCaskill was elected in 2006 — the year Republicans lost both the Senate and the House in a rout to the Democrats. Moreover, for the first time in history, in 2006, not one Republican wrested a gubernatorial, House or Senate seat from a sitting Democrat.
In 2012, Sen. McCaskill is believed beatable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the unique circumstance that helped her to victory in 2006. Her purported vulnerability is further heightened by Missouri's no longer being considered a "swing state," having gone for McCain in 2008 and having visibly shifted "red-ward" in the intervening four years.
As one of the first senators to embrace Barack Obama's campaign for the presidency, Sen. McCaskill remains among the president's ardent supporters. Accordingly, even if Obama wins re-election, there will be no coattail effect for McCaskill as the president's popularity in Missouri has certainly not increased.
Along with her ties to the president and the perception of her as liberal in a "red" state, McCaskill is burdened by at least two additional albatrosses. The most significant is her support for the Affordable Care Act, which was soundly rejected by Missouri voters in a 2010 vote of nearly 3 to 1 against the individual mandate.
To a lesser extent, her pro-choice stance cannot be considered a plus inasmuch as Missouri mirrors the most recent Gallup Poll, which shows pro-choice at a record low of 41 percent. Fifty-one percent of Americans polled identified themselves as pro-life.
On the plus side, Sen. McCaskill is outgoing and personable and has tacked to the center to promote a more moderate image than the liberal label painted by Republicans. A member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, she has made veterans' care and issues her highest priorities.
As chair of the Senate Committee on Contracting Oversight, her stated priorities include rooting out waste, fraud and abuse. Her other committee assignments include Homeland Security, Commerce, Transportation and Aging.
Her opponent, current U.S. representative from Missouri's 2nd Congressional District since 2001, Todd Akin, is a staunchly conservative Republican with degrees in management engineering and theology. Akin was a member of the Missouri National Guard from 1972 to 1980.
Congressman Akin's committee assignments include Armed Services, Budget and Space and Technology. With a rating ranging from 96 percent to 100 percent from the American Conservative Union, he supports the 2nd Amendment, pro-life and fiscal responsibility as seen in his rejection of increased taxation and spending initiatives.
From a polling standpoint, Sen. McCaskill is buoyed by the fact that, among the three Republican challengers, Akin was not only the most conservative but also enjoyed only a five point advantage over her as opposed to seven and 11 points by the other two.
This senatorial contest should be one that most accurately reflects the mood of flyover-country voters. It is the classic campaign between a moderate to liberal supporter of the president's tax policies and spending on social programs and a fiscal ultra-conservative with ties to the Tea Party movement.
It portends a defining and exciting contest.