GOP challengers lining up for shot at Missouri Sen. McCaskill

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The re-election bid of Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri is providing an early look at how Republicans plan to tie President Obama and his plunging job-approval ratings to vulnerable Democrats down the ballot next year.

Mrs. McCaskill, once famously noted by her own children as the president’s “BFF in the Senate,” is already facing a field of several formidable Republican opponents eager to portray the first-term Democrat as a proxy for Mr. Obama. “BFF” is a text-message abbreviation for “best friend forever.”

“She’s the one that introduced Missouri to Obama,” Rep. Todd Akin, a Republican who is seeking the Senate seat, said Thursday.

“Took him around, was very proud of the fact that she’d endorsed him. She’s basically rubber-stamped the major pieces of legislation that he has driven through,” he said during an interview Thursday on The Washington Times-affiliated “America’s Morning News” radio program. He cited in particular her backing for the president’s health care overhaul law and the $800 billion-plus economic-stimulus bill.

Mr. Akin, 64, a six-term St. Louis-area congressman, and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, 53, announced their campaigns for next August’s primary earlier this year, and well-known businessman John Brunner, 59, is expected to join the Republican field on Monday.

**FILE** Rep. Todd Akin, Missouri Republican (Associated Press)

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**FILE** Rep. Todd Akin, Missouri Republican (Associated Press) more >

Whoever emerges from the Republican primary can expect help from outsiders like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, which is already running anti-McCaskill ads in the state.

Republican strategists see Mrs. McCaskill’s seat, which she won in 2006 by a narrow 49.6 percent to 47.3 percent margin over then-Sen. Jim Talent, as ripe for a Republican pickup — especially given Mrs. McCaskill’s close association with the White House.

Mrs. McCaskill, who was once considered as a possible Obama running mate, voted to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays in the military, in addition to backing the health-care and stimulus bills.

Republicans in the state are determined to hold the 58-year-old former state auditor accountable for her votes.

David Cole, state Republican chairman, wrote recently: “Now that she has to run for re-election, McCaskill is backtracking as fast as she can. She knows that Missourians will not vote for an Obama-rubber-stamping, stimulus-supporting, Obamacare-loving liberal.”

The Missouri Republican Party also filed a formal complaint with the Senate ethics committee after reports in March that Mrs. McCaskill had billed taxpayers for flights aboard a private plane she owned. She has since reimbursed the Treasury almost $90,000 for the flights and paid more than $280,000 in back taxes on the plane.

An answer to whether Mrs. McCaskill is putting some distance between herself and the president could come as early as Tuesday, when Mr. Obama is scheduled to appear at a fundraiser in St. Louis.

After one news organization reported she planned to skip the event, the senator’s camp responded with a denial, saying that Mrs. McCaskill plans to attend if the event does not conflict with key votes on the Senate floor and if she can get back to Washington in time to attend her own fundraiser.

In the 2010 race for Missouri’s other Senate seat, Republican ads featured Mr. Obama praising Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, the Democratic nominee. She went on to lose to Republican Roy Blunt by more than 14 percentage points, part of the national wave of Democratic losses in the midterms.

The political website Real Clear Politics has the race in its “tossup” category, and the latest statewide poll shows Mrs. McCaskill holding a one-point lead over Mrs. Steelman, 43 percent to 42 percent.

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