Palin influence fails to win Missouri GOP Senate primary for Steelman

In a race that was anyone’s game right up to when the polls closed Tuesday night, the candidate who ran third in most polls and had the least money pulled off a major upset for U.S. senator from Missouri. In winning the right to face one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents — freshman Sen. Claire McCaskill — this fall, the six-term Rep. Todd Akin overcame millionaire businessman John Brunner, who spent heavily from his own fortune, and former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman, who benefited from campaign appearances by Sarah Palin.

In the last St. Louis Post Dispatch poll before the primary, Brunner led Steelman by a margin of 33 to 27 percent, with Akin trailing at 17 percent. Largely because of last minute attacks on one another by Brunner and Steelman, most Show-Me State sources concluded, Akin (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 97 percent) was able to creep up and overtake them in the final days of the race. In part, he was helped in this goal by solid support from fellow cultural conservatives and his strong endorsement from one of their favorite politicians, Mike Huckabee.

Brunner spent an estimated $8 million of his own money on the race and styling himself a businessman and conservative political outsider — something very much in style in 2012. Steelman, well-known from her stint as state treasurer and a bid for governor in 2008, won swatches of publicity from Palin’s endorsement. In addition, the former Alaska governor made two appearances on her behalf this weekend. So far, this year, Palin had been 4 and 0 in terms of her endorsements in contested primaries: tea party-backed candidates Richard Mourdock of Indiana, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Ted Cruz of Texas, along with incumbent Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. Cruz and Steelman were the lone contenders for whom Palin went into their respective states to stump for.

Akin’s win spells the first time in a Senate nomination battle that a Palin-backed contender has lost.

St. Louis-area lawmaker Akin’s campaign featured Huckabee in commercials. He also had the backing of the Eagle Forum’s Phyllis Schlafly and was helped from Missouri’s large network of evangelical conservatives.

He may also have been helped by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) own political action committee, which had already launched television broadsides against businessman-candidate Brunner. Days before the primary, Brunner told Human Events that “the idea of a businessman who owes nothing to anyone running against McCaskill must scare the Democrats, since Harry Reid and (McCaskill) are running those attack ads against me before I’m the nominee.”

While some will make the case that McCaskill and Reid now have the Republican candidate they most wanted in Missouri, Todd Akin is now the nominee and one of the best-positioned Republican challengers in the nation. A Rasmussen Poll showed all three GOP hopeful leading among likely Show-Me State voters.