Missouri Primary Results: Tea Party Upstart Sarah Steelman Looks to Upset the Establishment

In a year of hotly contested elections, early tensions are coming to a head on Tuesday in the Show Me State. The state is home to a nationally significant Senate race this November, a gubernatorial race, and redistricting (in light of the 2010 Census) has forced two Democratic stalwarts in the House to face off over representation of Missouri’s first Congressional district. 

Missouri’s senior Senator, Claire McCaskill (D), is up for re-election this year, and though she stands unopposed in the Democratic primary, she will face stiff competition this autumn from an energized Republican base. Missouri Republicans will decide today on the most suitable opponent for November’s general election from a field of three potential candidates: Rep. Todd Akin, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, and John Brunner. All prospective candidates share a passion for dismantling the Affordable Care Act and a leaner, more efficient, more responsive government. John Brunner is the favorite.

Brunner is far from untouchable though; Steelman and Brunner have weakened each other considerably with attack ads, benefiting the largely ignored Akin. Pundits point to Akin’s popular platform and strong support from the religious base as giving him the potential to overtake Brunner, especially in a primary election that boasts a significant wild card in the controversial Amendment 2

The amendment in question would extend the right to public prayer (already enshrined in the Missouri constitution) so that “no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs." Criticism is wide-ranging, but nearly all citizens agree that it will precipitate an abundance of litigation - State Rep. Chris Kelly has even taken to calling it a "jobs bill for lawyers."

Regardless of the outcome of the senatorial primary, many see this as a likely Republican pickup in the general election. In particular, McCaskill’s support of the stimulus and landmark health care bill have made her a target for Republican donors with deep pockets. All in all, over 2.2 million dollars have been spent by groups outside of Missouri on advertisements leading up to the senatorial primary.

Though incumbent Gov. Jeremiah “Jay” Nixon is up for re-election this year, his competition is more scattered than usual following Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder’s decision to run instead for a third term at his current post. Critics say that Kinder was rendered unelectable after a scandal broke in 2011 involving allegations from a former exotic dancer. The remaining contenders remain relatively unknown: St. Louis businessman Dave Spence, St. Louis investor Fred Sauer, Kansas City lawyer (and former preacher) Bill Randles, and the enigmatic John Weiler. No clear favorite has emerged.

In a race made more interesting by redistricting, incumbent Democratic congressmen Russ Carnahan and William Lacy Clay face off in the primary for the 1st Congressional District of Missouri, serving St. Louis City. Carnahan’s district (the 3rd) was essentially eliminated when Missouri lost one of its original nine districts and lines were redrawn by the Republican-led state legislature. Clay is a six-term representative from the 1st, succeeding his father, William Lacy Clay, Sr., in 2001 and winning all subsequent elections handily. Many foresee that Clay will hold on to the nomination and his seat in the general election.

Overall election turnout is foreseen to be 25% statewide, and eyes are on the state as one of the latest tests of Tea Party ideology, albeit in a Midwestern state with a complicated partisan history.  Missouri balances the liberal, urban cores of St. Louis and Kansas City with the traditionally conservative suburbs and “outstate” areas. The state also has a decided libertarian strain that betrays its history on the American frontier.

Polls close at 7:00pm here in Missouri – For results, see PolicyMic's live blog here.