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A showing Claire McCaskill can’t make to the “show me” state

The Washington Post reports that Claire McCaskill, the embattled Democratic Senator from Missouri, is trying to make super PACs a major issue in her re-election campaign. In fact, she devoted her first campaign ad to advancing the proposition that out-of-state special interests are gunning for her.

Wasn’t this a major theme that former Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln used, on her way to a 58-37 trouncing in 2010?

To be sure, Missouri isn’t as conservative as Arkansas. And I assume that McCaskill tried out the “outside money” pitch with focus groups before putting up her ad. But that just means she has no better pitch to make, not that her pitch is likely to help much.

And McCaskill needs help. The three candidates on the Republican side are largely unknown. Yet, two of them lead her, according to recent Rasmussen polling. Former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman is up 49% to 42%; Congressman Todd Akin is up 48% to 43%.

McCaskill’s biggest problem is President Obama who, according to the Post, carries an approval rating of only 39% in Missouri. But in a sense, this problem is partly of her own making. McCaskill was an early Obama endorser.

The real key for McCaskill’s re-election campaign is to demonstrate her independence from the president and his Party. If she can make that showing, then the “outside money” narrative may resonate.

But the showing isn’t there to be made. As with Blanche Lincoln, McCaskill can point to a few gestures of independence – she has opposed earmarking and co-sponsored legislation to impose federal spending caps.

On the big ticket items like stimulus and Obamacare, however, McCaskill has voted with her Party. And there is little doubt that these votes, not her more recent nods towards getting re-elected, reflect the real Claire McCaskill. Her transition from Obama endorser to Obama enabler was quite natural.

It seems unlikely that McCaskill can dig her way by attacking the super PACs that help remind Missouri of this truth.

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