Rep. Todd Akin emerged victorious Tuesday from the highly competitive Republican Senate primary in Missouri, easily defeating his top competitors, wealthy businessman John Brunner and former state treasurer Sarah Steelman. He will now head into a general election race against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, who has been marked as a top takeover target by Republicans.
Akin, who locked up support from conservatives such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Rep. Michele Bachmann, received 36 percent of the vote to 29.8 percent for Steelman and 29.2 percent for Brunner with 80 percent of precincts reporting. Three additional candidates split the remainder of the vote.
Much of the race's attention was focused on outsiders Brunner, who was able to put $6.9 million in personal funds into his campaign, and Steelman, a former elected official who earned star tea party support from Sarah Palin and painted herself as a Washington outsider.
Missouri's U.S. Senate primary was absent the clear establishment vs. tea party conservative narrative that has been present in many recent high-profile Republican primaries, such as Ted Cruz's recent victory in Texas. All three of the top candidates in Missouri boasted conservative support, tea party backing as well as establishment endorsements.
Akin ran a markedly less negative campaign than his challengers, according to messaging promoted in paid advertising. He focused on marketing himself as the only "proven conservative" in the race and highlighted his fiscally conservative record in Congress.
"Todd Akin cosponsored the balanced budget amendment and was named a taxpayer hero for opposing wasteful spending," Huckabee said in a television commercial for Akin. "Only Todd Akin voted against government bailouts, against wasteful stimulus spending and against budget-busting Obamacare."
After the results came in, McCaskill made clear she will be casting Akin as an extremist during the general election race this fall.
"Todd Akin has made it clear he would side with extreme politicians in Washington to privatize Medicare and Social Security, end student loans, and protect tax giveaways for corporations that ship Missouri jobs overseas," McCaskill said in a statement. "When Missourians have a chance to hear what Akin really stands for, they'll take a look at my record and see that I've always been an independent voice standing on the side of Missouri's families."
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee offered a similar attack line Tuesday night in Executive Director Guy Cecil's post-results press release:
Tonight's results provide Missourians with a crystal clear choice between Todd Akin's Tea Party policies and Claire McCaskill, a moderate and independent leader who fights for middle class Missourians. Akin is a champion for the special interests, who would push a Tea Party agenda that cuts Medicare benefits, privatizes Social Security and eliminates federally subsidized college loans that help Missouri families send their kids to college. Akin even said he didn't like Social Security and compared student loans to a 'stage three cancer.'
Questions were raised during the primary about whether Democrats actually preferred Akin as the GOP nominee and were working to subtly boost his campaign. Democrats denied the suggestion.
The state of Missouri remains competitive territory but has trended more conservative in recent years. Obama lost Missouri in 2008 by fewer than 4,000 votes, but this cycle, instead of targeting Missouri as a swing state, both parties have made clear they regard Missouri as Mitt Romney's to lose.
The state's conservative trend is working against McCaskill, who trailed each of the three top Republican candidates in a Mason-Dixon poll taken in late July.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) on Tuesday night cast McCaskill in a press release as a foot soldier for liberal Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and revived talk of a flap over McCaskill's private plane. In 2011, it was discovered that McCaskill was billing taxpayers to cover the cost of a private plane. She returned the money, but Republicans aren't allowing the opportunity to attack her on this front quietly slip away.
"I thought I'd note for you that Air Claire McCaskill is following her marching orders from Democrats' 'messaging guru' New York Senator Chuck Schumer — in the face of a daunting campaign to convince Missouri voters that she has been anything but an ardent supporter of President Obama and his far-left agenda," NRSC Deputy Communications Director Lance Trover said in a statement.
A post-results release from the committee said Missourians "rightfully feel betrayed" by their senator.
Primaries Tuesday were also held in Kansas, Michigan and Washington state. In Michigan, former Rep. Pete Hoekstra defeated tea party favorite Clark Durant in the Republican U.S. Senate primary. Hoekstra now heads into a general election against Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow.