Democrats Rejoice, But Tough Race Ahead for McCaskill

by Jessica Taylor August 8, 2012 · 10:13 AM EDT

Claire McCaskill (D) remains the Senate’s most endangered incumbent, but the Missouri Democrat’s prospects appear to have improved slightly on Tuesday after learning she’ll face Rep. Todd Akin (R) in the fall.

Akin’s come-from-behind win seemed unlikely only months ago, though Republicans never had a particularly strong field that remained highly fluid until the end. Wealthy businessman John Brunner was initially seen as the strongest candidate, and spent $8 million of his own money to narrowly lead the polls for much of the race. Former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman had hoped a last-minute appearance by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin could help her with the conservative base.

Democrats had a hand in the Republican outcome. In the race’s closing weeks, the DSCC and McCaskill ran ads hitting Akin for being too conservative, knowing that the social issues they highlighted were just the right appeal to a religious base. One of Akin’s ads was roundly mocked for rambling and hitting on religious themes, but it likely resonated with a Republican electorate that voted nearly unanimously in support of a “right to pray” amendment that was also on Tuesday’s ballot.

Akin’s nomination may just be a sliver of good news for Democrats, though. McCaskill has been firmly lodged in the low to mid-40s in general election ballot tests for months- a dangerous place for an incumbent, although she performed slightly better against Akin than the other two Republicans. A Mason Dixon poll for the St. Louis Post Dispatch at the end of July showed Akin leading McCaskill, 49 percent to 44 percent. We continue to rate this race as Toss Up/Tilt Republican.

In Michigan, former Rep. Pete Hoekstra easily beat back his primary challenge from charter schools executive Clark Durant. While Hoekstra had long been the favorite, conservative groups and leaders, including FreedomWorks and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) rallied to Durant in the final weeks, but the former congressman never surrendered his lead.

Still, the outcome doesn’t improve Republican prospects in the Wolverine State. Neither candidate had polled very closely against Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D), and with better GOP pickup opportunities in other states, don’t expect either party to invest money here. We currently rate this race as Democrat Favored.

Both Missouri and Washington saw competitive gubernatorial primaries, though in very different fashions.

In the Show Me State, Republican Dave Spence easily advanced after winning 60 percent in his primary and will face Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon this fall. While Spence, a wealthy businessman, can make this race competitive, Nixon still starts off with the edge, and we continue to rate this race as Lean Democrat.

On the West Coast, an all-party primary for the highly competitive gubernatorial race in Washington gave a slight glimpse into the inevitable showdown between Attorney General Rob McKenna(R) and former Rep. Jay Inslee (D).

Inslee topped the field with 47 percent of the vote to McKenna’s 43 percent, but the results only underscore that the general election race between these two men will be highly competitive and the race remains Republicans’ top pick up opportunity. We continue to rate this race as a Pure Toss-up.