Rep. W. Todd Akin in Missouri and former Rep. Pete Hoekstra in Michigan emerged from crowded primary fields Tuesday night to capture the Republican nominations to take on two embattled Democratic senators in November.
Mr. Akin took 36 percent of the vote to fend off challenges from multimillionaire businessman John Brunner, who received 30 percent, and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, who got 29 percent of the vote despite a strong late endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Recent polls showed all three Republicans beating freshman Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in head-to-head matchups. Mrs. McCaskill made history in 2006 as the Show-Me State’s first woman elected outright to the Senate — but she is also widely seen as one of the nation’s most vulnerable Senate incumbents as Republicans push to reclaim their majority.
Mr. Brunner once held a substantial lead in the race, but polls showed that the contest tightened significantly in the past week. Many Missouri Democrats said the win by Mr. Akin, a six-term lawmaker, was the best result for the McCaskill campaign, which had targeted its most negative advertising in recent weeks against the better-funded Mr. Brunner and Ms. Steelman.
In Michigan’s Republican Senate primary, the win by Mr. Hoekstra, a nine-term congressman who failed at a gubernatorial bid two years ago, over challenger Clark Durant set up a contest against second-term Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow. Polls show Mrs. Stabenow leading in the head-to-head matchup right now, but Mr. Hoekstra, the former ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, was widely seen as the best GOP candidate to take her on.
While most recent polls showed Mr. Hoekstra ahead by as much as 23 points, Mr. Durant, of Grosse Pointe, earned growing support from state and national conservatives who long have argued that Mr. Hoekstra’s Washington record, which included votes to support earmark spending as well as raise the federal debt limit, was not strong enough. Mr. Hoekstra received the endorsement of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.
Mr. Durant is a charter-school executive who was endorsed by the Tea Party Express, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. He also was endorsed by Michigan GOP power broker Betsy DeVos, former Michigan GOP chief Saul Anuzis and former Sen. Spencer Abraham.
Congressional incumbents also faced challengers in Michigan, where the House’s second-longest-serving member, Rep. John Conyers Jr., 83, held an early lead over two opponents in a newly redrawn 13th Congressional District.
Mr. Conyers significantly outpaced his challengers in fundraising, banking on his vast name recognition in Washington and a district that now covers parts of Detroit, Dearborn and other suburbs.
Also in Michigan, teacher and reindeer farmer Terry Bentivolio, a 27-year Army veteran, held an early lead over former state Sen. Nancy Cassis for the chance to serve out the remainder of the term vacated by former Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, who abruptly resigned his 11th Congressional District seat in June over a state investigation into fraudulent ballot petitions turned in by his campaign.
The special election, which was estimated to cost voters about $650,000 to fill Mr. McCotter’s open seat for about 60 days (while a general election in November would pick a full-term successor), angered some strapped local communities in Wayne and Oakland counties that were forced to foot an expensive, unplanned election bill.
Mrs. Cassis, long a favorite of Michigan GOP power brokers, who handpicked her for the race, was forced to run as a write-in candidate, given the timing of Mr. McCotter’s departure, making her bid for the McCotter seat an uphill battle despite her name recognition. Her long political track record in the state was expected to give her an edge over Mr. Bentivolio as she sought to paint him as an outsider and gadfly, even as some state conservatives, including tea party members, lauded his platform and dubbed him as a fresh-faced “Reagan Republican.”
In western Michigan, Rep. Fred Upton, a 13-term veteran who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, looked solid to win a primary challenge against opponent Jack Hoogendyk, a former state representative, in the state’s 6th Congressional District. Mr. Upton raised about $3 million in the race, compared with Mr. Hoogendyk’s $120,000.