McCaskill, Akin Seeking Come-from Behind Missouri Win
JEFFERSON CITY (AP) - Two candidates once projected to lose were facing off Tuesday in Missouri's U.S. Senate election, guaranteeing that either Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill or Republican challenger Todd Akin could claim a come-from-behind victory in an unusual race that had figured to be pivotal to party control of the chamber long before it was propelled into the national spotlight.
McCaskill, who is seeking a second term, proclaimed herself the underdog as the 2012 campaign began and was considered among the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent senators because of her ties to President Barack Obama in a state that has increasingly favored Republicans in recent national elections.
But Akin, a six-term congressman from suburban St. Louis, tumbled into the underdog position in mid-August when he remarked to a TV interviewer inquiring about his opposition to abortion that women's bodies have ways of avoiding pregnancy in instances of "legitimate rape." Akin apologized and said he was wrong, but top national Republicans - including presidential candidate Mitt Romney - called on him to drop out of the race so the state GOP committee could pick a replacement.
Akin instead forged ahead, soliciting small online donations with an anti-establishment appeal after losing millions of dollars of planned advertising support from the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the deep-pocketed Crossroads group affiliated with GOP strategist Karl Rove. He eventually regained support from some Republicans - including former presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee - and got financial backing from several conservative interest groups, including a $1 million ad buy from the Now or Never Political Action Committee.
But McCaskill generally enjoyed a financial advantage throughout the campaign and gained a potent example to bolster her theme that Akin's views were too extreme. Akin countered by portraying McCaskill as a big-government Obama supporter.
The McCaskill-Akin matchup for the Senate seat was one that both candidates initially relished.
Even before the Aug. 7 Republican primary, McCaskill took the unusual step of running TV advertisements against her three potential Republican opponents. The ads against St. Louis businessman John Brunner and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman followed traditional lines of attack, but the ad about Akin highlighted positions appealing to Republican primary voters. McCaskill's ad called Akin a "crusader against bigger government" who promotes a "pro-family agenda," and it ended with the claim that Akin "is just too conservative."
If the intent was to nudge Akin toward a primary victory, it worked.
Immediately after the primary, McCaskill began running ads using Akin's own words against him. Among other things, McCaskill featured video clips of Akin expressing opposition to the federal minimum wage and to the federal government's role in issuing student loans, which he had cited as an example of how the government suffers from "the equivalent of stage three cancer of socialism."
Akin countered by suggesting it was McCaskill whose views were outside the mainstream of Missouri voters. He especially cited her support for Obama's 2009 stimulus act and his 2010 health care law. Akin noted that Missouri voters in August 2010 had overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure symbolically rebuffing a key component of Obama's health care law that mandating that most Americans have health insurance or face a tax penalty.
In October, Akin also targeted McCaskill with ads highlighting her husband's business ties to the federal government. During her first five years in office, businesses affiliated with McCaskill's husband, Joseph Shepard, received nearly $40 million of federal housing subsidies. McCaskill voted for - but against other - bills that funded the federal agencies that administered the subsidy programs. Akin claimed McCaskill had a conflict of interest. McCaskill denied that, asserting among other things that little to none of the subsidies made into the family's personal bank accounts.
McCaskill, 59, has a lengthy political resume that includes time spent as state auditor, a state lawmaker and a county prosecutor in the Kansas City area. She now lives in suburban St. Louis. Akin, 65, is a former Army officer, engineer and state lawmaker who first won election to the U.S. House in 2000 after narrowly prevailing in a five-person Republican primary.