U.S. Rep. Sam Graves of northwest Missouri chose a committee chairmanship over a Senate campaign Thursday, removing himself from a potential Republican primary for the right to challenge Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in 2012.
Graves, who recently became chairman of the House Small Business Committee, said he is the first person from his area ever to lead a House committee and the time commitment of a Senate campaign probably would have forced him to step down from his leadership post.
He described it as "an agonizing decision."
"I believe it is a winnable race for me," Graves said Thursday. "However, I also believe that I can have a greater impact on federal policy in the next six years as a chairman in the House."
His decision still leaves two other Republicans in Missouri's Senate race. St. Louis attorney Ed Martin - who narrowly lost a congressional bid last year - declared his Senate candidacy on Monday. Former Missouri Treasurer Sarah Steelman announced her candidacy Dec. 1, becoming one of the earliest entries nationally into the 2012 campaigns.
Missouri, a historical swing state, is expected to feature one of the nation's more closely contested U.S. Senate races next year.
McCaskill is one of 23 Senate Democrats up for re-election in 2012, compared to just 10 Republicans. She is viewed by Republicans as one of the most politically vulnerable incumbents because of her close ties to President Barack Obama, whose popularity waned in Missouri after he narrowly lost the state to Republican Sen. John McCain in the 2008 elections.
McCaskill was an early Obama supporter in the campaign and has backed some of his most high-profile initiatives, including the federal health care overhaul and economic stimulus act.
A farmer from Tarkio, Graves defeated the son of longtime former Democratic Rep. Pat Danner to win a close election for the 6th Congressional District seat in 2000. He has carried as least 59 percent of the vote in each re-election bid since then. Graves previously served in both the state House and state Senate.
Steelman campaign raises $200K in December
Steelman raised $208,000 in her first month as a U.S. Senate candidate, putting a dent in McCaskill's cash advantage as the 2012 campaign begins.
Figures released Wednesday by Steelman show that after expenses, she had about $189,000 remaining in her campaign account from the money she raised in December. Steelman, who declared her candidacy Dec. 1, touted it as a strong start to her Senate bid, but she still has a ways to go to catch up financially with McCaskill.
Federal finance reports show McCaskill raised nearly $136,000 during the last quarter of 2010 and had about $905,000 in her campaign account as 2011 began.
Steelman, a former Missouri treasurer and state senator from Rolla, is one of several Republicans who may be competing for the right to face McCaskill, who will be seeking her second six-year Senate term.
Martin raised almost $1.4 million last year while narrowly losing a challenge to Democratic U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan. His post-election finance reports showed his campaign owed about $44,000. But Martin said Wednesday that he now has a positive balance of about $40,000 in his congressional campaign account, which can be rolled over to a Senate bid.