In spite of my last two posts, and opportunistic attacks from Tea Party Republicans over the convention flap, the 2012 senate race is shaping up to look favorably for Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO). In the months after the 2010 midterms conventional wisdom in Washington held that McCaskill was endangered. Robin Carnahan had lost her bid for Missouri's other senate seat by thirteen points against Roy Blunt and Obama's sub par approval ratings where predicted to hang like an albatross around McCaskill. While McCaskill is still vulnerable, the dynamics of the race have shifted in her favor: the strongest Republican candidates have declined to run while the remaining Republicans, Sarah Steeleman, Ed Martin among others, will likely wage a destructive primary campaign for the right to challenge McCaskill.
Last month former Senator Jim Talent (R-MO), who McCaskill defeated in 2006, declined to seek a rematch against her and this week Representative Sam Graves also decided not to run. Both candidates were thought of as strong opponents for McCaskill. A PPP poll shows Steelman performing worst against McCaskill (44-45) compared to Talent (47-45). Even before Graves dropped out Survey USA released an interesting poll showing McCaskill leading Graves 48-44. Although Graves is out of the race the poll provides a good baseline for McCaskill as he serves as a generic Republican and Democrats and Republicans who were polled line up with their respective candidates while independents split between the two. Surprisingly the poll found Graves capturing 21 percent of the African American vote, and 46 percent of voters between the ages of 18-29, numbers that are likely to fall considerably with President Obama on the ballot.
Several media outlets are in a tizzy about the latest fund raising numbers, noting Sarah Steeleman out raised McCaskill. However McCaskill still has $900,000 cash on hand, far more than Steeleman, and the Senator has only just began to aggressively fund raise. Martin was stuck at an anemic $40,000 and left without a campaign treasurer, worse yet the St. Louis lawyer, may have lied about his fund raising haul to lessen the political damage.
The Hill reports Republicans are working overtime to avoid an acrimonious primary:
...Lloyd Smith, the executive director of the state GOP, said he’s been in conversations with several candidates in order to express the party’s desire to avoid an “intense primary."
But these efforts are likely to fail. So far Steeleman is recognized as the Republican front runner, and national Republicans reportedly encouraged her to run. But if the 2010 congressional campaign was any indication, Steeleman will face a difficult challenge from Martin. His lack of funds probably won't stop him from practicing scorch and burn politics which will fracture the Republican base and badly damage the eventual Republican nominee. If Martin somehow manages to win the nomination his extreme views would easily make him the Sharon Angle/Christine O'Donnell of 2012 and give McCaskill a path to a decisive victory.
As for Steeleman her penchant for incoherent babble matches Sara Palin. Sean at FiredUp Missouri, caught a hilarious interview where Steeleman struggles to answer questions ranging from defunding Medicare to the date of the Republican Primary. Steeleman would likely flounder against the sharp articulate style of McCaskill.
Other potential challengers include Representative Jo Ann Emerson, though she would have to contend with her moderate reputation and chargers she would be willing to compromise with Democrats--high treason in the lizard brain of Republican rank-and-file.
Ann Wagner, former Ambassador to Luxembourg and consummate Republican Party insider, is also considering a bid. Wagner remains politically untested as she has never sought elective office, and despite this she will still carry the baggage of being an "insider" which would hobble her in both the primary and general election.
As of February 1st, Cook Political Report, projects Democrats are "likely"to win the Missouri Senate race and though election day is twenty months away at this point McCaskill is in a strong position to be re-elected.