JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Former Missouri Republican Party Chairwoman Ann Wagner took an initial step Tuesday toward a St. Louis-area congressional campaign while signaling that the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, may be edging closer to a bid for U.S. Senate.
Wagner announced on her website that she has set up an exploratory committee for Congress "in the likely event Missouri's Second Congressional District becomes an open seat in 2012."
Akin, who has represented the 2nd District for a decade, is one of several Republicans considering a challenge to Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill next year. An Akin spokesman declined to say Tuesday whether a Senate campaign now is likely.
"Those are her words, not the congressman's," said Akin spokesman Steve Taylor. But he added: "It's no secret that Congressman Akin has been considering that and has received encouragement from many conservatives to do so."
Missouri's potential political shuffle comes as the state's congressional districts are being redrawn. In the 2012 elections, Missouri will shrink from nine to eight districts, because the 2010 Census determined the state's population grew more slowly than the nation's.
The Republican-led state House and Senate are in charge of redrawing the congressional district boundaries but have been deadlocked partly because of a disagreement over how to divide suburban St. Louis. Under most proposals under consideration, the 2nd District would lose Lincoln County and part of St. Charles County on the northwest side of the St. Louis area and instead extend farther west and south. That means Akin could have to appeal to a couple hundred thousand new voters if he were to run again in a redrawn 2nd District.
Wagner also had been considering a U.S. Senate bid before shifting course to a congressional campaign. She said the potential for an open seat in a redrawn 2nd District, which would consist largely of her home of St. Louis County, increased her desire to run for Congress. In her online announcement, she criticized the growth of federal spending under President Barack Obama while noting that the local unemployment rate remains around 9 percent.
"For the first time in my life, I'm literally scared for my family and community," Wagner said in an interview. "This soaring debt and government regulation and overreach is out of control."
By setting up an exploratory committee, Wagner can begin raising money for a congressional campaign. If Akin chooses to seek re-election, Wagner said she will not challenge him in a primary. But she said she wanted to send a signal to others that she was serious about the congressional race in case Akin does run for Senate.
Wagner served as chairwoman of the Missouri Republican Party from 1999 until she was appointed ambassador to Luxembourg by former President George W. Bush in 2005. She held that position until Obama became president in 2009. She also was co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee from 2001 to 2005 and made an unsuccessful bid for RNC chair earlier this year.
Last year, Wagner served as co-chairwoman of Republican Roy Blunt's successful U.S. Senate campaign. Despite her years of political experience, Wagner has not previously been a candidate for public office.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)