By DAVID A. LIEB
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Republican voters on Tuesday chose among three candidates who during the primary campaign touted their conservative credentials in the hopes of taking on Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill in November, a contest considered crucial to the GOP's efforts to regain control of the U.S. Senate.
The Republican primary lineup is suburban St. Louis businessman John Brunner, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman of Rolla, and U.S. Rep. Todd Akin of suburban St. Louis. McCaskill is unopposed in the Democratic race.
All three have emphasized McCaskill's ties to President Barack Obama, noting her support for two of his most high-profile laws - the 2010 health care overhaul and the 2009 stimulus act. Each has vowed to work to repeal the health care law and to support limiting government debt, taxes, spending and regulations.
Noreen McCann, 54, of Wildwood, a Republican and married mother of six, said she was supporting Akin, although she also liked Steelman.
"He's a solid conservative and he's been there in the trenches," McCann said. "He's good on life issues, strong on defense. He votes his conscience. I don't think Todd Akin is for sale. He votes on principle."
James Baumgartner, 75, a retired state chemist from Jefferson City, voted for Steelman in Jefferson City, saying it was important to defeat McCaskill.
"I want to make damn sure that somebody defeats Claire McCaskill, and I think maybe she has that opportunity, because she's a woman," Baumgartner said.
John Bubb, 61, a software engineer from Fenton, was lukewarm on Bruner, but voted for him anyway.
"I'm not entirely happy with some of the things he has said in public. I'm concerned he does not state positions clearly. But I will not vote for the other two," Bubb said.
He said Steelman is on the wrong side of many positions. He admires Akin for sticking to his principles, "but his principles differ from mine on many issues" including a more hawkish stance on war.
McCaskill, 59, is seeking a second six-year term in the Senate to cap a lengthy political resume that includes time spent as state auditor, a state lawmaker and a county prosecutor in the Kansas City area.
Because they agree on most issues, the Republican candidates have sought to distinguish themselves by emphasizing their personal backgrounds, obtaining competing endorsements and casting doubt on whether others can be trusted to carry out the conservative cause.
Brunner, 60, is the former CEO and chairman of Vi-Jon Inc., which makes Germ-X hand sanitizer and other personal health care products. He poured more than $7.5 million into his campaign to finance ads that touted his manufacturing experience and cast Akin and Steelman as "career politicians." He also has benefited from millions more spent on advertising by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and has the support of a conservative political organization, FreedomWorks for America.
Steelman, 54, has trumpeted the endorsement of the Tea Party Express and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. In a TV ad, Palin described Steelman as an economist "who defends our tax dollars like a momma grizzly defends her cubs." A former Missouri treasurer and state senator, Steelman has loaned her campaign several hundred thousand dollars and has been aided by a political committee that spent several hundred thousand more on ads attacking Brunner's conservative credentials.
Akin, 65, decided to run for Senate instead of seeking a seventh term in Congress. Akin won election to the U.S. House in 2000 after edging out a win in a five-way Republican primary by a mere 66 votes. He frequently highlights the fact that he was rated as Missouri's most conservative member in Congress, and his campaign commercials have featured the praise of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a presidential candidate in 2008. Akin has refrained from running negative ads.