Senate races in Missouri and Nebraska tighten

October 29, 2012

Around the country, tightening Senate races are drawing money and attention, even in states that are not at the center of the presidential battle.

In Missouri, for example, polls suggesting a narrowing Senate contest are being used to increase fundraising and motivate supporters. Signs of a tight race are treasured by Republican Rep. Todd Akin since his support collapsed in August following his comment that "legitimate rape" rarely causes pregnancy. Last week, a poll sponsored by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and other news organizations showed incumbent Sen.Claire McCaskill with a narrow 45 to 43 percent lead over Akin. The tightening race has inspired fundraising and motivational appeals from both campaigns.

Oklahoma's Republican Sen. James Inhofe campaigns Monday with Akin in St. Louis. Christian conservative leader Tony Perkins travels the state this week on a "No McCaskill" bus tour, as Akin and his allies continue to hit the incumbent senator's support for President Obama and her husband's receipt of federal contracting dollars. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, already on the air backing Akin, also arrives in St. Louis this week to speak for the congressman at a meeting of conservative Christian clergy. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich flies in later in this week for Akin.

Both former Republican officials, popular in Missouri, have stuck by Akin even as he was shunned by GOP leaders in Washington, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and strategist Karl Rove. McCaskill is on the air Monday with a new ad that includes footage of Akin's notorious remark, for which he later apologized.

Similar tension is hitting Nebraska where polls have also tightened, showing former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey narrowing a once-significant lead held by Republican Deb Fischer, a rancher hoping to replace Democrat Ben Nelson, who is retiring. A poll by the Omaha World Herald released Sunday showed a three percentage point difference between the two, 49 percent for Fischer, to 46 for Kerrey. At the end of September, Kerrey trailed Fischer by 16.

As in Missouri, the tighter polls have increased spending and emotional appeals from both candidates, and their outside supporters. Joe Ricketts, founder of Omaha-based Ameritrade has spent nearly $700,000 on behalf of Fischer through his Super PAC "Ending Spending," according to the World Herald. His effort includes a spot airing Monday in which three Nebraskans defend Fischer against Kerrey's criticism. Kerrey's campaign manager, Paul Johnson, says the tighter race will bring more money from Ricketts and other big spenders. "We're expecting a nuclear bomb," Johnson said Monday morning, predicting a wave of spending on anti-Kerrey ads. Kerrey sent a fundraising letter to supporters Monday warning that "Tea Party billionaire Joe Ricketts... will pass the $1 million threshold in his spending against me this week... Contribute $5 today to help fight back."

Tom Hamburger covers the intersection of money and politics for The Washington Post.
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