The Missouri GOP’s Todd Akin alternatives

August 21, 2012

Rep. Todd Akin is clinging for dear life to his Senate candidacy, despite resounding calls for him to drop out in the aftermath of his comments about "legitimate rape."

And The Fix's Sean Sullivan wrote this morning that his dropping out could actually make the whole situation worth it for the GOP, because the party could replace him with a more viable candidate in what is a very important Senate race.

But who might that be?

Below, we take a look at some of the names that are floating around (the final decision would belong to the state central committee).

Who did we miss? The comments section awaits...

Former senator Jim Talent: Talent lost narrowly to Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) in 2006 and passed on the race this year despite urging from many in the GOP. He stands as perhaps the one candidate who is able to jump into the race and immediately raise lots of money.

But it's also become pretty apparent that Talent is more interested in a cabinet post in a Romney administration and focusing on what is an important role as a top adviser to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. He even said this week that he won't replace Akin on the ballot.

But what if Romney comes to Talent and says, 'We need this seat to re-take the Senate, and I need you to step up'? (A similar thing happened with Tim Kaine, who reluctantly ran for Senate in Virginia this year after urging from the White House.) It's not implausible; the Missouri seat is hugely important in deciding the Senate majority.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson: Many Republicans think the best way to get past the whole Akin mess might well be to nominate a woman. That makes sense. And though there isn't a clear woman candidate ready to step up, Emerson might be the most likely one.

The other options all have drawbacks -- whether from lack of experience or other factors preventing their selection. Emerson, meanwhile, is an attractive, well-regarded eight-term congresswoman. But she hasn't faced tough races and isn't a top-tier fundraiser, so it's unclear that she's ideal for a big-time race.

Sarah Steelman: We have a hard time seeing this one. Steelman is a former state treasurer, but she won few friends in the party during her 2008 gubernatorial primary campaign against the party favorite, then-Rep. Kenny Hulshof, as many thought she damaged his chances in the general election (which he lost by 18 points). And she finished third in the Senate primary this year, behind Akin and businessman John Brunner, and struggled mightily to raise money.

That said, she's the one woman with a Senate campaign already in place, and Republicans had fewer qualms about her than they did about Akin (for whatever that's worth).

Rep. Vicky Hartzler: Another potential woman candidate, Hartzler is a freshman who defeated longtime Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) in a high-profile race in 2010.

But she isn't really regarded as a top-tier candidate, and she recently dabbled in birtherism, telling a town hall crowd: "You know, I have a lot of doubts about all that. But I don't know, I haven't seen it ... But I don't understand why (President Obama) didn't show that right away." That's not a full-throated birther rant, but it's just enough to give Republicans plenty of pause, especially given their brief experience with Akin.

Ann Wagner: The one woman on this list who has proven to be a fundraising powerhouse, Wagner (after passing on the Senate race) won the GOP nomination for Akin's seat by raising $2 million -- about twice what Emerson and Hartzler have raised this cycle.

Wagner's connections from her past jobs as state party chairwoman and Republican National Committee co-chairwoman mean she could raise money quickly and that should not be underestimated.

But picking a former party boss may not be the best option, lest the whole situation appear to be an effort to supplant a grassroots candidate with an insider. And the GOP would have to find a new candidate for Akin's seat (as they would with Hartzler and Emerson if they were picked).

John Brunner: The businessman appeared to be the favorite late in the primary this year, before ads run by Democrats helped put Akin over the top. And Brunner's big advantage is his ability to write a check; he self-funded $7 million (!) for the primary.

That said, the fact that all that money couldn't get him past two candidates who aren't highly regarded may give Republicans pause. And Brunner is a political newcomer with a business record, which often can be a liability (see: Romney, W. Mitt).

State Auditor Tom Schweich: Schweich's name seems to pop up every time there is a key statewide vacancy these days and this time would be no different.

A close confidante of former senator John Danforth (R-Mo.), Schweich has connections and a great resume: counternarcotics chief in Afghanistan, chief investigator of the crisis in Waco, chief of staff to Danforth during his time as ambassador to the United Nations, and now as a statewide official.

But he's still a relative political newcomer and there didn't appear to be a groundswell of support -- despite Danforth's urging -- for Schweich to run for Senate or governor in either 2010 or this year.

John Ashcroft: His name has popped up in a few places, but we're dubious. The former U.S. attorney general is also a former governor and senator who has a long electoral history in Missouri. But he's been out of the game for a while, is 70 years old, and lost to a dead man -- literally -- in his last campaign.

Combine that with his close ties to the Bush administration and we have a hard time seeing it.

Former senator and governor Kit Bond: Another name that is out there that seems highly unlikely. Bond just retired in 2010, is 73 years old, and is likely making a nice chunk of change in the private sector.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
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