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U.S. Rep. Todd Akin of Wildwood won the battle of conservatives for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate with a strong lead that held through the evening in statewide returns.

With all but four of Missouri's 3,428 precints reporting, Akin has 217,240 votes, or 36 percent; followed by 180,678 for businessman John G. Brunner of Frontenac, at 30 percent; and former state treasurer Sarah Steelman of Rolla at 29 percent with 176,080 votes.

Akin will challenge Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who is seeking a second term, in the Nov. 6 general election.

Akin had held his lead throughout the evening. He spoke at about 10:30 p.m. to his supporters at the Columns Banquet Center in St. Charles.

"The first thing I would like to do is give thanks to God, our creator," Akin said. "Your prayers were answered with victory."

Akin also thanked Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister and former Arkansas governor, who campaigned for him. And Akin said of his campaign volunteers, "Never in my life have I had such a fantastic team."

Brunner remained upbeat about his chances until shortly before Akin claimed victory. Brunner then called Akin privately from his hotel room to congratulate him, Brunner's campaign said.

At 10 p.m., Steelman conceded. Five other candidates trail far behind.

McCaskill, of Kirkwood, unseated former senator Jim Talent, a Republican, in 2006. But a Post-Dispatch/KMOV-TV poll released July 29 put McCaskill behind in contests with each of the three GOP candidates.

The winner of the general election goes to Washington with U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican from Springfield.

Akin held a strong lead in St. Louis County, with 45 percent of votes counted. Brunner, also of the county, has 36 percent, followed by Steelman at 16 percent.

All three GOP candidates stressed their true-red conservative credentials during the spirited campaign. Steelman won the endorsement of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and regards herself as the Tea Party favorite. Steelman was was state treasurer from 2005 to 2009 and, before then, served in the Missouri Senate.

Akin said he has been a consistent voice in the U.S. House of Representatives. He has represented Missouri’s Second Congressional District since 2001 and is a former state legislator. Brunner, making his first bid for public office, is former chief executive of Vi-Jon, maker of Germ-X. Brunner called himself a proven job creator. He also outspent his rivals, much of it with his own money, in a blitz of TV ads.

Tim O'Neil is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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