St. Louis area U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, a staunch conservative who refused to attack his opponents, on Tuesday won Missouri's Republican U.S. Senate nomination.
He'll face Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill in November in a race that will offer Missourians a sharp contrast between a six-term congressman who has said he's committed to sharply cutting the federal budget and a Democrat determined to maintain a basic safety net for most Americans.
"I want to give thanks to God our Creator who has blessed this campaign, heard your prayers, and answered them with victory," Akin said. "Through the months, we have seen frequent instances of His blessing and are reminded that with Him all things are possible."
Akin, a six-term House member, begins the race as a slight favorite, but was widely viewed as the Republican candidate McCaskill most preferred to face.
McCaskill, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary, said the contrast would be between "somebody who believes that Pell Grants and the federal government having some involvement in helping kids get to college is third-stage cancer versus somebody who believes that has distinguished us from the rest of the world."
She added that Akin is "somebody who is very proud of crafting a blueprint for America that blows up Medicare and blows up Social Security."
Akin agreed that contrasts between the two are clear.
"This is going to be about reclaiming our God-given values, rebuilding the American dream and restoring the America that we love," he said. "And so this is going to be a sharp contrast."
One indication that McCaskill favored Akin, 65, could be seen in an unusual series of ads that her campaign ran against each of the three leading Republicans last month.
The spots aimed at Brunner and Steelman were critical, but the ad about Akin labeled him "the most conservative congressman in Missouri" and "a crusader against bigger government" -- both qualities that could be considered appealing to GOP voters.
University of Missouri-Columbia political scientist Peverill Squire said McCaskill, 59, wound up engineering who her fall opponent would be "to a greater degree and in a more transparent way than anything we can think of in recent memory."
In his losing bid, Brunner, a political newcomer who struggled early on to explain why he was running, spent $7.5 million of his own money. McCaskill admitted that she had worried about how much Brunner might spend in the general election.
"I was a little intimidated by the amount of personal wealth that John Brunner was going to be willing to put on the table to buy a Senate seat," she said.
Akin told The Star that he will push the need to rebuild Medicare after $500 billion has been stripped out of it as a result of President Barack Obama's health care plan.
"And if Claire McCaskill is one of the key votes for passing Obamacare, I'm going to be one of the key votes for repealing Obamacare," he said.
Both McCaskill and Akin said they were confident the upcoming race can focus on issues and not personalities. "He's a principled guy, and a nice guy," she said of Akin.
Steelman, who poured $800,000 of her own money into the race, was the only one of the three who had held statewide office before. She was endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
In the campaign's final week, Akin released a campaign ad in which he spoke directly to the camera.
"America was founded on the unique vision that our Creator gave us life, the foundation of freedom ...," he said in the ad. "In times of crisis, when the dream seemed lost, great patriots turned to God, gave their all and rekindled freedom's flame. This now is our duty and our time."
Akin may have received a boost from Amendment 2 that also was on the statewide ballot Tuesday. Missouri voters wound up approving the amendment to the state constitution that proponents say will help ensure the right to pray in public.
The contest proved challenging for voters because Brunner, Steelman and Akin disagreed so little on issues. Each vied for the title of most conservative, and all insisted that their experience positioned them best for the right to take on McCaskill this fall.
Akin, a six-term congressman from the St. Louis suburbs, regularly reminded voters that interest groups rated him as the state's most conservative member of Congress.
Brunner, a political newcomer, pitched his background as a "citizen-senator" and pointed out that he had created hundreds of jobs at Vi-Jon, maker of the Germ-X hand sanitizer and other personal care products.
Steelman, an economist, emphasized her experience battling insiders in the Missouri statehouse as a state senator, and then as state treasurer, and often ended her 30-second TV ads with the line: "The status quo has got to go."
With little to argue about, the candidates turned to marketing. Akin released two TV spots featuring Huckabee, who finished second to John McCain in the 2008 Missouri presidential primary.
"Standing on principle, leading with courage, that's Todd Akin," Huckabee said in one of them.
Steelman relied on Palin, a favorite with the tea party crowd who came to Cass County on the campaign's final weekend to stump for her. Palin, who had endorsed winners in the four other Senate primaries she engaged in this year around the country, also appeared in a TV ad in which she called Steelman a "conservative maverick."
"Sarah ... defends our tax dollars like a mamma grizzly defends her cubs," Palin said in one spot.
As a newcomer to politics, Brunner may have lacked the connections to high-profile Republicans, but he attempted to make up for it through the sheer volume of his spending. Through July 18, federal campaign reports showed that he spent nearly $7 million -- more than three times Akin's $2.2 million. Steelman spent $1.5 million.
Brunner poured more than $7.5 million of his own money into his bid with much of that going to advertising in which he attempted to introduce himself to voters.
"I built a successful manufacturing business from 80 to over a thousand American jobs, helping those families share in the American dream," Brunner said in one ad.
The campaign turned aggressive at several points, with Brunner attacking Steelman and Akin as "not reliable conservatives." Akin, Brunner charged, supported a government mandate for health care "just like Obamacare." Steelman, the same ad said, was the only Republican state senator who voted against ending "frivolous lawsuits."
Steelman countered with one spot that accused Brunner of donating $10,000 to an "extreme animal rights group, founded to give farm animals rights."
Even McCaskill weighed in with ads knocking all three. But her Akin spot was critical in tone only.
Akin declined to run negative ads.
A poll released Monday from the Democratic polling group, Public Policy Polling, showed that the primary race in its final days remained close. Brunner had 35 percent support to Akin's 30 percent, while Steelman had 25 percent. About 10 percent said they would back another candidate or were undecided.
Five other GOP contenders were on the ballot, though none raised much money or campaigned aggressively. They were Jerry Beck of La Monte; Mark Memoly of Lee's Summit; Mark Patrick Lodes of St. Louis; Robert (Bob) Poole of Macon, and Hector Maldonado of Sullivan.