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Akin hits the campaign trail, while McCaskill's ads hit him

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 25, 2012 - Republican U.S. Senate nominee Todd Akin has gone on the road, while Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill has gone on the attack.

That pretty much sums up the current state of affairs for one of the nation’s most-watched U.S. Senate contests, now that it’s clear Akin won’t back out.

Tuesday afternoon, just hours before the deadline for a withdrawal, a defiant and determined Akin was flanked by more than 100 supporters in a ballroom at the Renaissance Grand hotel downtown.

He announced that he was focused on one task for the next six weeks.

“I have one purpose going into November, and that is replacing Claire McCaskill!” Akin declared, touching off cheers from his allies.

After his five-minute speech, Akin took no questions. Soon after, the west county congressman and his wife boarded a chartered bus to launch his campaign’s “Common Sense Bus Tour,” which will tour the state for the next four days.

(Update) By Wednesday morning, Akin had some GOP company, as former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and influential Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., formally endorsed him.

In a joint statement, Santorum and DeMint said:

"If Republicans are to win back the Senate and stop President (Barack) Obama's liberal agenda, we must defeat Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri. Her support of President Obama's job-killing, big-spending policies are sending our country into an economic abyss. And her passionate support of ObamaCare is ensuring health-care costs go up while quality of care goes down. Simply put, we cannot afford six more years of Sen. McCaskill.

"Todd will work to stop reckless spending, stop the out of control debt, repeal the government takeover of health care, support our military and defend life at every stage."

Also officially on board with Akin is U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who earlier had helped lead the drive to force out the congressman. In a statement, Blunt observed that he and Akin "don't agree on everything, but he and I agree the Senate majority must change. I'll be working for the Republican ticket in
Missouri, and that includes Todd Akin." (End update)

Meanwhile, McCaskill announced late Tuesday on MSNBC's "Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell'' that her campaign would be rolling out a "Republicans for Claire'' arm in the next few days.

And while not naming any names, McCaskill said they will include "a former chief of staff'' to retired Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., and a former staffer to Sarah Steelman, the former state treasurer who lost to Akin -- in a race that also included businessman John Brunner -- in the Aug. 7 primary.

McCaskill's campaign also has launched two new TV ads this week, one of which focuses solely on comments that Akin has made within the past 18 months – such as his criticism of Social Security and Medicare and his opposition to the minimum wage.

The ad also mentions Akin’s August comment about “legitimate rape’’ that prompted calls from national and state Republicans for him to withdraw from the race, and be replaced by a candidate deemed more winnable, in the eyes of GOP leaders.

Most major Republican-aligned PACs, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Crossroads GPS, also have dropped – at least for now – their plans to blanket the TV airwaves with anti-McCaskill ads.  

Akin garners some GOP support; will money follow?

However, the Senate Conservatives Fund, a SuperPAC with ties to Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., sent out a survey Tuesday to its members asking them whether the PAC should help Akin. The congressman previously has said that his staff has been in discussions with DeMint's aides about possible aid, after Akin's camp assured the influential southern senator that Akin now supports a ban on congressional "earmarks'' -- a key effort of DeMint and McCaskill.

The Missouri Republican Party also issued a supportive statement: “Just like all of our GOP candidates elected in the August primary, the Missouri Republican Party stands behind Congressman Todd Akin in his race for United States Senate.

"Claire McCaskill is far too liberal for Missouri — voting with Barack Obama 95 percent of the time since 2010 and supporting every major piece of his reckless agenda,” the party said in a statement. “We are confident that Todd will defeat McCaskill in November, and the Missouri Republican Party will do everything we can to assist in his efforts.”

Akin didn’t mention the rape furor Tuesday but emphatically made clear that “the decision was made by the voters of the state of Missouri” that he should be the GOP nominee. He defeated two well-known rivals in the Aug. 7 primary.

Since the controversy broke, most polls have shown McCaskill with a single-digit lead, which is why some Akin supporters – including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich – predict that the PACs will return soon with a vengeance.

Sources say that McCaskill is continuing to focus on fundraising in order to raise money for the expected GOP onslaught; she has had no public events since last Friday’s forum with Akin before the Missouri Press Association.

A McCaskill spokesman said Tuesday, “We're taking nothing for granted in this race, and Claire will continue to work like she's running from behind.”

McCaskill did, however, go on Twitter on Monday to register her objections to Gingrich's assertion -- during a campaign stop for Akin -- that the congressman's battle was similar to that of then-Sen. Harry S Truman, D-Mo., when he ran for re-election.

"Today in St Louis Newt said Todd reminded him of Harry Truman!?!" said McCaskill in her Tweet. "I believe Harry would have a few choice words for Newt Gingrich."

McCaskill currently holds Truman's old seat.

On Tuesday, after Akin's news conference, McCaskill tweeted to her 77,283 followers: "He's in. Let's win..."

McCaskill's gotten some help from labor and reproductive-rights groups, who have been organizing protests outside many of Akin's campaign events.

Akin to promote conservative views

As for Akin, he made clear during Tuesday’s brief address that his campaign will be centered on the social conservative views that have endeared him to like-minded activists, including Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, who smiled in the background as the congressman sought to make his case.

Akin cited his “A” rating from the National Rifle Association and his opposition to the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare."

On the former, he pointed to McCaskill’s “F” rating from the NRA, adding that the Second Amendment  is “dear to the people of the state of Missouri.”

He also highlighted McCaskill's support for "Obamacare" and the opposition of 71 percent of the Missourians who voted in August 2010 for Proposition C, which sought to exempt the state from the federal provisions in the Affordable Care Act.

Akin also cited his opposition to the "death tax," or estate tax; the federal stimulus package; and the bank bailout. McCaskill, he said had supported all three.

McCaskill takes issue with his claim; she has sponsored a bill to keep the current estate tax provisions, and she previously has voted at least four times in the Senate to reduce the tax.

Replied her campaign spokesman, Erik Dorey: "Missouri families know exactly who they can trust to protect Medicare, Social Security and student loans, and it's not Todd Akin. Claire's always been a senator on our side, fighting to protect these safety nets.

"On the other hand, Todd Akin's been working to abolish the minimum wage and eliminate Social Security and Medicare, all while protecting tax giveaways for mega-millionaires and big oil at the expense of working families. Todd Akin is trying once again to mislead voters about Claire's record because he knows his own beliefs are just too extreme for Missouri."

Former St. Charles County Executive Joe Ortwerth, now head of the Missouri Family Policy Council, was among the allies at Akin’s bus-tour kickoff.

Ortwerth contended that the controversy over the congressman's comments has actually freed up Akin by highlighting where he stands and making clear who are his real allies and supporters.

“It has actually enabled him to campaign as the guy he is,’’ Ortwerth said with a chuckle. “He’s an independent cuss. That’s very appealing to the grassroots.”

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.