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In announcing for U.S. Senate, Akin says he's a 'consistent conservative'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 18, 2011 - In 1999, then-state Rep. Todd Akin held up a whaler's harpoon when he declared he was joining the already crowded Republican field seeking the open 2nd District congressional seat a year later.

On Tuesday, 12 years later, U.S. Rep. Akin, R-Town and Country, dropped the props as he declared his intention to jump into the 2012 hunt against a larger political fish --” U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

Akin said his record was "a literal exact opposite of McCaskill's."

Surrounded by family and friends at a Drury Inn in St. Louis County, Akin framed his hoped-for contest with McCaskill as a debate over "a choice of two futures'' for the country.

As for himself, Akin said he's the "consistent conservative'' who won't shrink from the tough national choices that need to be made. He portrayed Democrats in control of the Senate and the White House as engaging in "tyranny'' that threatens Americans' freedoms.

Akin noted that he has voted against all the federal stimulus and bailout packages since the economic downturn began in late 2008. "Did we get the jobs we promised?" he asked. "Certainly not."

Akin also opposes "Obamacare,'' the federal health-care law and cited his votes in favor of defunding the program. He has voted in favor of the spending-cut plan by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., which would turn Medicare into a voucher program.

Akin contended that the free market is the best cure for the rising cost of health care and health insurance, saying that less government regulation could lead to more choices and lower prices. Akin notes that he was among the few Republicans who voted against President George W. Bush's program to expand Medicare to cover prescription drugs.

Akin also voted against Bush's No Child Left Behind initiative, which requires regular assessments of public school students in order for states to receive federal funding. Akin contends that the federal government should have less control and oversight of public schools, which generally are run by the states.

Those on hand for Tuesday's announcement included state House Majority Leader Tim Jones, R-Eureka, who endorsed Akin as offering Missouri voters "the best and most clear choice."

Akin is in his sixth term in the U.S. House. Presuming he wins Missouri's Republican primary next summer, Akin said he expected his Senate contest with McCaskill would cost between $15 million and $20 million.

His latest campaign report showed that Akin already had close to $1 million in the bank. McCaskill's last report showed her with close to $2 million.

Akin's campaign distributed tickets for his first major event, called a "Patriot Rally," to be held at the St. Charles Convention Center on May 20.

Akin declined to answer any qustions about his chief announced GOP rival, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman of Rolla, Mo When asked about another talked-about potential candidate, businessman John Brunner, Akin noted that Brunner had long been one of his supporters and donors.

"I think he supported the right guy," Akin quipped.

Akin, 63, has made a career as a critic of many federal and state government programs and taxes. While in the state House in the 1990s, he filed suit against the state's 1993 tax hikes for education and also sued to block the state's law changes allowing riverboat gaming.

He also is an avowed social conservative. Aside from frequently citing his opposition to abortion, Akin has cosponsored proposed constitutional amendments protecting the pledge of allegience, barring "flag desecration'' and banning same-sex marriage.

Akin also supports making the federal Patriot Act permanent and has been outspoken about what he views as lax immigration policies. Such stances have made him a favorite of tea party groups.

His first web ad, aired at today's news conference, promised that Akin would work to protect "liberty and prosperity."

Akin was accompanied by his wife and several of their six children. Two of his sons are on active military duty, and a third recently finished his military tenure.

Akin's audience included dozens of GOP supporters, including Ann Wagner and Ed Martin, who are among those vying to replace Akin in the U.S. House. Wagner said she was definitely backing Akin's U.S. Senate bid, and issued a statement in the afternoon underscoring her intentions.

Akin has been receiving encouragement for months from many Republican leaders and donors, some of whom are not fans of Steelman, who faced criticism in 2008 when she challenged the party's favored candidate for governor, then-U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Columbia.

His announcement follows decisions by a number of congressional colleagues -- notably Reps. Sam Graves, R-Tarkio, and Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau -- who opted against challenging McCaskill, even though she has been hammered for months over policy and personal issues.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee took pains not to endorse Akin or Steelman. But spokesman Chris Bond quipped, "While we don't yet know who the GOP nominee will ultimately be, it's safe to say that the Republican will not have failed (like McCaskill) to pay almost $400,000 in back taxes on their private plane."

The Missouri Democratic Party swiftly sought to cast Akin as embracing an "extreme record of fighting for special interests."

Caitlin Legacki, the state Democratic Party spokeswoman, cited six votes that Akin has cast in the last five years "to protect billions of dollars in federal subsidies for Big Oil companies."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.