Small plane controversy could hurt McCaskill’s lead in polls

McCaskill led in polls against all potential Republican candidates before the incident.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., answers questions during a town hall meeting Feb. 23 at Columbia City Hall. McCaskill spent $1,200 of unauthorized tax payer money to campaign in Hannibal but later paid back the funds.

A survey released by Public Policy Polling last week showed that in the early stages of her re-election campaign, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has maintained an edge over potential GOP opponents.

The poll showed that when pitted against Sarah Steelman, McCaskill narrowly topped the former Missouri treasurer 45 to 42 percent. She also outran Ed Martin 46 to 40 percent and was up in the polls at the highest margin over Ann Wagner, 45 to 36 percent. The smallest lead for McCaskill came against Todd Akin at 46 to 45 percent.

Martin and Steelman are the only candidates who have officially announced their bid for McCaskill's seat. Her approval rating has increased from 43 to 46 percent since November, which can be attributed to her recent shift toward the center in regards to votes on spending.

But her numbers could take a hit in the coming weeks due to sensitive information released by Politico last week. The Virginia-based news source delved into McCaskill's flying records, finding that she has spent $76,000 in public funds in the past four years to fly for senate business on a plane that she owns with her husband.

Although using these funds for official Senate business is legal, one flight, an excursion to the 2007 Democrat Days event in Hannibal, which cost $1,200, was said to be purely political in nature and therefore unauthorized. Her spokeswoman Maria Speiser said the trip was mistakenly paid for and that the senator has since then written a check to the government for the costs of the trip.

"Sen. McCaskill is embarrassed by this mistake," Speiser said. "Fortunately, all the expenditures related to the plane have already been repaid to the government."

Republican opposition has been quick to criticize McCaskill. Steelman issued a statement slamming McCaskill, calling her policies hypocritical.

"While Senator McCaskill talks about cracking down on congressional travel and eliminating waste, fraud and abuse, she is letting the taxpayers help pay for her jet," Steelman said. "We will no longer tolerate politicians demanding change from everyone else."

Candidate Ed Martin tweeted "Support Ed Martin's effort to give Senator McCaskill a ticket home," and posted a link to a new webpage he has set up called AirClaire, where supporters can donate $89, the cost of a one-way ticket, to "send her home."

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