JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Rep. Todd Akin, who played up his tea party credentials and conservative appeal, broke out from a three-way Missouri Republican primary on Tuesday to earn the right to take on Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, setting up one of the most closely watched Senate races of 2012.
Akin won a contest defined by which candidate was the most conservative. In doing so, he beat out Sarah Palin's candidate of choice, former state treasurer Sarah Steelman, and John Brunner, a businessman who poured more than $7.5 million of his own money into the race.
Meanwhile in Michigan, Republicans selected former Rep. Pete Hoekstra to take on Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow in November. Democratic Rep. John Conyers staved off a primary challenge in a slightly redrawn district to advance to November's election, when he will be strongly favored to win a 25th consecutive term in Congress. Rep. Gary Peters defeated Rep. Hansen Clarke in a member versus member Democratic primary also brought on by congressional redistricting.
In another closely watched Missouri race, Rep. William Lacy Clay defeated Rep. Russ Carnahan in a showdown of two of Missouri's most prominent Democratic families. The two were also drawn together because of congressional redistricting.
With primary elections being held in four states Tuesday, Missouri's Republican Senate primary figured to have the most national significance: The GOP needs to net four seats from Democrats to gain control of the Senate and Republicans viewed McCaskill as among their top targets this year.
In a sign of the race to come, McCaskill released a statement within minutes of the race being called, labeling Akin as "extreme."
"This election is now a clear choice, and it boils down to a very simple question: whose side are you on?" McCaskill said. "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."
Akin, 65, who drew the backing of former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, has billed himself as a tea party supporter and has a strong conservative voting record in Congress.
Polls indicated that any of the three GOP contenders would stand a good chance of defeating McCaskill. She took the unusual step of airing television ads targeting all three, a tactic that reflected the uncertain nature of the GOP primary.
In Michigan, Hoekstra enters his race against Stabenow as the underdog. Stabenow, the chairwoman of the Senate's agriculture committee, is seeking a third term and has enjoyed a steady lead in polls.
On the Democratic side in Michigan, Conyers defeated state Sen. Glenn Anderson. Conyers, who has had few serious primary challengers since first winning election in 1965, is expected to win the seat easily. Republican Harry Sawicki ran unopposed in the GOP primary.
In Washington, seven people were running for a seat representing the newly drawn 1st Congressional District. They were Democrats Suzan DelBene, Darcy Burner, state Sen. Steve Hobbs, Laura Ruderman and Darshan Rauniyar; Republican John Koster; and independent Larry Ishmael. Washington state votes by mail, so all of the state's 3.7 million voters received their ballots weeks ago. Voters had to have their ballots postmarked and in the mail by Tuesday or drop them off at special boxes around the state by 8 p.m. local time.
The Kansas primary was defined by a fight between the state GOP's conservative wing and its more moderate elements. Conservative Republican challengers had unseated two GOP moderates in the Kansas Senate and led six others, improving their chances of reshaping the Legislature and ending a check on the political right's agenda.