NIXA, Mo.— It’s not every day that I get kicked out of a campaign rally and threatened with arrest for trespassing.
Akin returned to the campaign trail this week after his remarks last month about the ability of a woman’s body to shut down and avoid pregnancy after “legitimate” rape also threatened to shut down his run for the U.S. Senate against Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill.
The rally had opened with a prayer and the Pledge to Allegiance. My college-student daughter was with me in the storefront office crowded with around 150 enthusiastic supporters. She held a small tape recorder; I had a camera and notebook and was busy scribbling notes when a brawny (are there ever scrawny security folks?) security guard tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
He repeated his statement and I asked why. “If you don’t leave, you’ll be charged with trespassing. This is private property.”
I told him I was with the media and to check with the campaign’s communications director, whom I’d e-mailed earlier.
No matter. He and a young man escorted us out to the sidewalk. As we headed toward the parking lot, the security guard and the intern returned, most apologetic.
They were afraid we’d been hired to cause trouble, the young man (later described as "an over-aggressive intern) explained. They thought we were “trackers” for the opposition because we were taping the remarks.
This time, they accompanied us inside and the security guard parted the crowd until we had a front-row spot.
Akin’s remarks focused on the clear-cut differences between him and McCaskill, who’s unpopular with many Missouri voters because of her support for President Obama’s health care reform.
Missouri, my home state, was solidly Democratic when I was growing up (think President Harry Truman), but those days are long gone, just like my childhood.
The state’s moved to the right and Akin’s counting on that support.
His message is plain and simple: “We are choosing the future of America,” Akin said to cheers, citing the deficit, higher gas prices, tax increases and unemployment – “you know that’s a phoney baloney number anyway because after looking for work for a year they take you off the list.”
Calling himself a Ronald Reagan conservative, Akin mocked McCaskill for describing herself a moderate.
“We don’t want the efficiency of the federal government and the compassion of the IRS to run our health care,” he said, promising that he would vote to repeal “Obamacare” once he reaches the Senate.
“Some of you care about the Constitution…part of that is this little thing called the Second Amendment,” he said as several audience members murmured “amen.” The National Rifle Association has given Akin an “A”, McCaskill an “F”.
Same grades from National Right to Life.
He talked more about the “death tax,” emphasizing its effect on the family farm and calling it a “job killer.”
But the big buzzword of the night was “freedom.”
“I’m standing for real freedom,” Akin said. “More freedom means more jobs….less government and less taxes.”
He explained, “Our rights come from God and that is the bedrock of freedom in America.”
He said it was “okay” to talk about jobs and the economy. But “what goes beyond the economy is freedom.”
I have to admire Akin’s persistence in the face of party bosses (those references were met with boos from the crowd) to continue his campaign. His communications director told me they’ve raised $400,000 from online donations alone in the last 18 days and the money, much of it in $30 to $50 amounts, has come from as far away as California, New York and Pennsylvania. There were also containers for donations at the rally and one woman personally handed Akin her check after his speech.
I asked one of his supporters how to explain away last month’s statement about rape. “It was an oops, a serious oops,” said Pam Cooper, a Republican committeewoman from the East Finley Precinct in Ozark. “But look at his record.”
Matt Johnston of Springfield, holding a sign that said, “Invest in the 99% / Make Wall Street Pay!” told me he was tired of Republicans giving corporations and millionaires tax breaks.
Betty Maples of Nixa said she was there “because I don’t approve of how Todd Akin treats women.”
At the end of a long evening, during which Akin shook every hand that evening and personally spoke with every supporter who wanted to chat, I had my chance to ask what he would say to women (after all, this is “She the People.”)
He mentioned his wife and daughters. “I’m a dad and that’s pretty important,” he said. Then he went on to tell me, “The way God made you is just perfect….live the dream He puts in your heart.”
Akin said it with all sincerity. He believes his message.
Diana Reese is a freelance journalist in Kansas City. Follow her on Twitter @dianareese.