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Missouri GOP US Senate Barnburner Poised for Closest Primary Finish in 56 Years

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Only three of the 35 Republican primaries for the U.S. Senate have been decided by less than 10 points in state history with the average margin of victory at more than 50 points

johnbrunner10.jpgWith eight candidates on the ballot, the Missouri GOP U.S. Senate contest appears to still be a three-candidate race heading into the last day of campaigning before Tuesday's primary.

Businessman John Brunner has surged from a long-shot candidacy last fall to a potential favorite in one of many high profile Republican senate primaries held in the 2012 cycle.

Brunner is matched up against six-term U.S. Representative Todd Akin, former Missouri Treasurer Sarah Steelman and five other lesser-known candidates in what will go down as one of the most competitive Republican U.S. Senate primaries in state history.

A Smart Politics analysis finds that Missouri's 2012 Republican U.S. Senate primary is slated to be just the fourth out of 36 such contests in state history to be decided by single-digits, with a historical average victory margin of more than 50 points.

Only two Missouri Republicans have ever received a free pass to the general election over the past century.

One-term incumbent Roscoe Peterson ran uncontested in 1934 as did two-term incumbent John Danforth in 1988.

Despite this history, Missouri GOP U.S. Senate primaries have largely been snoozers cycle after cycle, with the average victory margin coming in at 52.3 points.

Republican incumbents have won all 11 primaries in which they have run for reelection by an average of 68.5 points while the 24 primaries without GOP U.S. Senators in the race were decided by an average of 44.9 points.

The margin of victory in Tuesday's contest, however, is likely to be in the single digits, and low single digits at that.

Only three of the 35 U.S. Senate primaries in party history have been decided by single digits with the most narrowly decided contest occurring during the 1956 cycle.

In that race, Herbert Douglas (40.8 percent) defeated Albert Schoenbeck (38.5 percent) by just 2.3 points with William Thomas a distant third out of four candidates with 14.1 percent of the vote.

Douglas subsequently lost to one-term Democratic incumbent Thomas Hennings by 12.8 points that November.

But the most competitive race to date was the primary of 1928 when U.S. District Attorney and former 1-term U.S. Representative Roscoe Patterson won the primary with just 31.4 percent of the vote - some 3.4 points ahead of former 1-term U.S. House member Nathan Frank (28.0 percent) with a third candidate - David Proctor - just 5.0 points back at 26.4 percent in a six-candidate field.

Patterson would win the general election that fall but then lost by nearly 20 points in his reelection bid to Harry Truman in the 1934 cycle.

Only one other Republican primary in the state has been decided by less than 10 points (R.R. Brewster's 8.1-point victory in 1922) and only three others have been decided by less than 20 points (in 1920, 1940, and 1958).

The most competitive U.S. Senate primary for the Republican Party since the 1960s was a 35.8-point blow-out by St. Louis County Chief Executive Gene McNary over State Senator David Doctorian in 1980.

The 1928 race mentioned above most closely resembles what is likely to happen on Tuesday.

Brunner, Akin, and Steelman will all easily land in double-digits, with each candidate probably winning north of 20 percent of the vote.

The last time a trio of Republican U.S. Senate primary candidates received even 10 percent of the vote in the Show-Me state was over 50 years ago in 1958 when Hazel Palmer (44.6 percent), perennial candidate William Thomas (26.5 percent), and Homer Cotton (19.6 percent) accomplished that feat.

Palmer went on to get trounced by Democratic incumbent Stuart Symington in the general election.

From the first senate primary in 1914 through 1958 there were nine cycles in which three Missouri Republican candidates received at least 10 percent of the vote (1916, 1920, 1926, 1928, 1940, 1944, 1946, 1956, 1958), one in which four candidates reached double-digits (1932), and another in which five candidates reached that milestone (1922).

Margin of Victory in Missouri Republican U.S. Senate Primaries, 1914-2010

Year
Winner
%
2nd Place
%
MoV
2010
Roy Blunt
71.0
Chuck Purgason
13.1
57.9
2006
Jim Talent
88.9
Scott Babbitt
4.1
84.8
2004
Kit Bond
88.1
Mike Steger
11.9
76.2
2002
Jim Talent
89.6
Joseph May
4.2
85.4
1998
Kit Bond
86.9
Joyce Lea
3.9
83.0
1994
John Ashcroft
83.2
Joyce Lea
4.9
78.3
1992
Kit Bond
82.7
Wes Hummel
17.3
65.4
1988
John Danforth
100.0
(unopposed)
0.0
100.0
1986
Kit Bond
88.9
Richard Gimpelson
3.9
85.0
1982
John Danforth
73.9
Mel Hancock
20.9
53.0
1980
Gene McNary
61.5
David Doctorian
25.7
35.8
1976
John Danforth
93.5
Gregory Hansman
6.5
87.0
1974
Thomas Curtis
81.9
Paul Robinett
10.1
71.8
1970
John Danforth
72.6
Doris Landfather
19.7
52.9
1968
Thomas Curtis
84.5
Morris Duncan
10.8
73.7
1964
Jean Bradshaw
78.2
Morris Duncan
21.8
56.4
1962
Crosby Kemper
66.6
Duane Cox
13.2
53.4
1958
Hazel Palmer
44.6
William Thomas
26.5
18.1
1956
Herbert Douglas
40.8
Albert Schoenbeck
38.5
2.3
1952
James Kem
84.3
William Thomas
11.0
73.3
1950
Forrest Donnell
84.9
William Thomas
7.4
77.5
1946
James Kem
54.6
William Thomas
14.7
39.9
1944
Forrest Donnell
49.6
Howard Stephens
21.6
28.0
1940
Manvel Davis
40.8
David Proctor
28.6
12.2
1938
Henry Caulfield
86.0
Ray White
14.0
72.0
1934
Roscoe Patterson
100.0
(unopposed)
0.0
100.0
1932
Henry Kiel
50.4
Dewey Short
21.0
29.4
1928
Roscoe Patterson
31.4
Nathan Frank
28.0
3.4
1926
George Williams
56.5
David Proctor
28.2
28.3
1926 (s)
George Williams
75.7
Blogdett Priest
24.3
51.4
1922
R.R. Brewster
33.4
William Sacks
25.3
8.1
1920
Seldon Spencer
49.7
Dwight Davis
38.2
11.5
1918 (s)
Seldon Spencer
63.7
Jay Torrey
36.3
27.4
1916
Walter Dickey
51.3
Thomas Akins
29.8
21.5
1914
Thomas Akins
63.6
Politte Elvins
36.5
27.1
Average
 
70.1
 
17.8
52.3
Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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