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Conservative women vouch for Akin at first St. Louis area event

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 19, 2012 - U.S. Rep. Todd Akin returned to the St. Louis-area campaign trail on Tuesday, speaking briefly at a Women Standing with Todd Akin event that featured glowing testimonials from a bevy of conservative women.

With the exception of a short press conference, Akin, R-Wildwood, hadn't held any campaign events in the St. Louis area since he sparked a national furor with his comments about legitimate rape.

Since he resumed his campaign schedule after making multiple apologies, Akin primarily spent time in rural areas in his bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri.

The furor was over Akin's observation, during a televised interview with KTVI's Charles Jaco, that women victims of legitimate rape rarely get pregnant. He has since apologized, amid medical evidence to the contrary and GOP dismay that the comment fits into the Democratic assertions that Republicans have declared a war on women.

(Update) The event at Pillar in the Valley in Chesterfield was aimed at dispelling the notion that Akin was hostile to women.Before he got up to speak, a number of Akin's supporters praised the six-term congressman's opposition to abortion, pornography and sex trafficking. They also commended his support for adoption and his advocacy for various conservative causes.

"This 'War on Women' that's been declared, I would just like to politely disagree with what that War on Women is," said Heather Kesselring, one of the speakers at the event. "The War on Women is ... pornography, it is sex trafficking, it is abortion. And all of these other issues that we don't want to talk about. But it is time. And it is time for us to say Todd Akin understands these issues and he is ready to go fight for women like nobody else."

Akin himself only spoke for over two minutes, spending most his address reciting an anecdote about when his mother took him to visit the Old North Bridge in Concord, Mass., when he was in third grade.

U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Wildwood speaks at "Women for Akin" event in Chesterfield.

He then recited without notes Ralph Waldo Emerson's Concord Hymn, a poem about the Revolutionary War inscribed on a statue of a minuteman near the bridge.

A seed was planted in a little heart that day, said Akin after explaining how his mother helped him memorize the poem. I know you have the same kinds of things. I thank you now, so we can pass on that blessing of freedom to our children and grandchildren. God bless you.

Akin did not take questions from press.

Arguably the most famous speaker of the evening was Phyllis Schlafly, the founder of the conservative Eagle Forum who has been a longtime Akin supporter. She reiterated a common theme that Akin was standing tall against party bosses angling to push him out of the U.S. Senate race, recounting how he personally turned down an appeal from then-President George W. Bush to vote for a prescription drug benefit to Medicare.

They're not so keen about Todd because they know they can't control him or tell him what to do, said Schlafly, eliciting a round of applause.

Schlafly conceded that Akin has a tough race against McCaskill, especially since prominent third-party groups such as the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Crossroads GPS vowed to cut off financial support for his candidacy.

She then announced that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich would be coming in next Monday for a $500-a-plate fundraiser in St. Louis. Rick Tyler, one of Gingrich's aides during his unsuccessful presidential campaign, now works for Akin's candidacy.

I certainly intend to go myself,Schlaflysaid. Because we want to show them who's boss in this country.

In a statement to the Beacon, McCaskill spokeswoman Caitlin Legacki said women in Missouri know that Claire's been a Senator on our side, fighting for families, expanded access to education and economic fairness that benefits everyone.

At the same time, Todd Akin's positions are so extreme, he would outlaw common forms of birth control, including The Pill, and would ban the morning after pill for rape victims, Legacki said. That just goes too far."(End update)

Akin's last local public event also was at Pillar in the Valley, when he declared last month that he was remaining in the Senate race despite pressure from national Republican leaders and all of the living current or former Republican U.S. senators from Missouri that he drop out.

Now, the Akin camp has found itself somewhat embattled again, as a result of a recent article in the nonpartisan National Journal that featured an extensive quote from Akin's wife, Lulli, during the campaign's first official return to the campaign trail several weeks ago, in northwest Missouri.

Says Lulli Akin's comment mischaracterized

Lulli Akin is quoted as saying that the efforts to force her husband out of the race reflected tyranny, a top-down approach. ... Party bosses dictating who is allowed to advance through the party and make all the decisions it's just like 1776 in that way.

What has gotten the most attention, though, is Lulli Akin's later observation about colonists who 'rose up and said, 'Not in my home, you don't come and rape my daughters and my wife. But that is where we are again. There has been a freedom of elections, not tyranny of selections since way back. Why are we going to roll over and let them steamroll us, be it Democrats or Republicans or whomever?'

Akin spokesman Ryan Hite said that Lulli Akin was unaware that she was being interviewed, and said the comments were made during a general discussion with the reporter only about a week after the controversy broke.

Hite also noted that only excerpts not her full quote were used in the article. While not criticizing the National Journal, Hite asserted that her comments have been mischaracterized by some other news outlets as implying that she was comparing national GOP leaders to Revolutionary War rapists.

That wasn't the case, the spokesman said. She wasn't implying in any way what some' have reported."

"She was talking about colonists," Hite said. Akin and his wife long have been known as Revolutionary War buffs, and the congressman often makes campaign comments referring to the nation's founders.

In any case, any controversy over Lulli Akin's comments has been swiftly overshadowed by the national furor over this week's attention to a video of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at a fundraising event last spring, where he told the audience that 47 percent of Americans would likely not vote for him because they were not paying income taxes and were recipients of federal entitlement programs.

Romney, by the way, had been among the Republicans who have called on Akin to drop out.

Hite declined comment on Romney's latest troubles, saying only, He's running his race and we're running ours.

Deadline approaches

Tonight's event kicks off the final week leading up to the Sept. 25 deadline for Akin to seek a court order if he changes his mind and decides he wants to remove himself from the ballot.

But the actual unofficial deadline is likely within days, because federal law requires that election officials send out ballots to military personnel and others overseas by Saturday. Because the ballots must be printed, that means they are being produced by this week at the latest.

Because of those time constraints, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan has indicated that any GOP hope of getting a replacement on Missouri's ballot is fading fast.

Hite said such talk is pointless, since Akin has no intention of dropping out. He is already going back up on television with a new ad attacking McCaskill.

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.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.