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A recent poll shows Senator Claire McCskill trailing all three of her potential GOP challengers in spite of the fact that it would be charitable to characterize these particular GOPers as leftover dog’s breakfast. And this is occurring even though McCaskill has carefully avoided identification with the progressive viewpoint and honed her “moderate” credentials, usually thought to be just the ticket for purple state Democrats.

McCaskill has tried hard to present herself as a pragmatist who takes a reasonable, open-minded approach, calibrating just which right-wing memes she needs to validate in order to buy a little credibility with out-state voters and which progressive principles are too precious to abandon. Take the recent senate vote on extending the Bush tax cuts for the middle class but not for the wealthy if you want an example of how McCasill balances one step on the left with a second step to the right:

Illustrating the potential high-voltage political impact of the vote, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who is in a tight re-election race, announced she had introduced a bill preventing the estate tax from rising next year, and Tester co-sponsored it. She issued a news release to that effect just minutes after voting for the Democratic bill, which would let estate taxes go much higher in 2013.

If the polls are to be believed, this strategy has done little for McCaskill apart from almost alienating progressives. I say almost because most progressives know how to balance reality with their druthers and can live with ambiguity in the person of politicians teetering on the centrist tightrope, at least when the other choices are wallowing in rightwing mud.

Conventional wisdom is that McCaskill is trying hard to please those amorphous creatures we usually term “independent” voters. There’s some doubt that this designation actually pertains to a real entity, but McCaskill seems to be convinced that there are a few – or, at least, some erstwhile Republicans who are alienated by the circus freak show that now dominates the Republican party. The hope seems to have been that this group, if sufficiently cosseted, would provide her just enough votes in outstate areas that, combined with the Kansas City and St. Louis metro areas where she’s gold, it would enable her to prevail. It’s worked before, but I’m wondering if conditions haven’t changed since the election of America’s first black president.

There’s either not enough of these “independents,” or they are, as many have claimed, low information types who’re easily stampeded by negative sloganeering – of which we’ve had a steady barage since the election of Obama. Nasty, dishonest attacks of the same type used to slime the president and all of his initiatives have been lobbed at McCaskill as well, and it’s likely that the rate of fire will accelerate even more as we approach election day. After all, corporate interests with a lot to gain from a a GOP win also seem to have nearly bottomless pockets.

Lot’s of progressives sought to remind McCaskill that few among the GOP-leaning types were going to vote for a Democrat when they could get the real thing in the GOP shop. Nor does it seem that “moderate” is going buy McCaskill anything in an environment where the crazies are taking over, emotions are running high, lies are daily currency, facts – such as her “moderate” voting record – are easily overlooked, and where reasonable is just too … reasonable.

One can only hope that McCaskill will still pull it out, and that the endgame will justify her strategic gamble. After the primary, when she knows which variety of dufus she’ll be facing, she can direct a steady light on his or her particular strain of know-nothing Republicanism and maybe peel off a few real, erstwhile GOP moderates. Meanwhile, it’s hard to resist saying I told you so even though we know how much is at stake.