In 2006, Claire McCaskill won a narrow victory over Jim Talent in the Missouri Senate race in a great year for Democrats, but now finds herself as one of the top Republican targets in 2012. McCaskill, while presenting herself as an independent voice in the Senate, ultimately voted for the key aspects of the Obama agenda. That includes the national health care law, which is so unpopular in her home state that 71 percent of voters backed a ballot measure earlier this year aimed at protecting the state’s residents from the law’s individual mandate. Last month, Republican Roy Blunt won his Senate race in Missouri by 13 points.
Yesterday, Sarah Steelman, a former state treasurer and state senator, has announced plans to challenge McCaskill, setting the stage for what could be a hard fought primary. The Club for Growth came out this morning to applaud Steelman’s entrance into the race, with Club president Chris Chocola calling it “a welcome sign for pro-growth conservatives.” By contrast, Chocola fired a preemtive strike against Talent, who is believed to be considering a rematch against McCaskill. “With a record of support for government expansion and outrageous earmark spending, it would be more difficult for Jim Talent to successfully contrast his record with Claire McCaskill’s,” he said. You can already see the conservative outsider vs. establishment RINO narrative forming.
Democratic polling firm PPP has conducted an early poll of the race, and confirms that McCaskill is vulnerable, essentially tied with prospective challengers. She has a one point edge over Steelman, while trailing Talent and Lt Gov. Peter Kinder, another possible candidate, by two points each. She doesn’t poll above 45 percent any any of the hypothetical matchups, which is typically a bad sign for incumbents. Also a bad sign — only 43 percent approve of her job performance, compared with 44 percent who disapprove.