McCaskill, Akin duel over stem cell research, Obamacare in Missouri debate

October 19, 2012

Here’s the short version of what happened during Thursday night’s final debate for the U.S. Senate race in Missouri between incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Republican challenger Rep. Todd Akin:

McCaskill, former auditor and prosecuting attorney that she is, rattled off specifics on all of the topics addressed and discussed them with knowledge and confidence. She pointed to her record as a moderate, as someone who had worked “across the aisle” on such issues as capping federal spending and who had fought the “favor factory” of earmarks. Oh, and she did quote from the Bible at one point, too.

Akin seemed to end up in the same place with every argument: The federal government is taking away our freedoms. He believes in the U.S. Constitution. If you like a program, give it to the states (like school lunches) or the private sector (Social Security, Medicare, student loans) to run.

Claire McCaskill emphasizes her moderate voting record in second debate for U.S. Senate race in Missouri. (Emily Rasinksi — The Washington Post)

My personal beef with Thursday night’s debate: A lack of respect for Sen. McCaskill from Rep. Akin. Whether it’s because she’s a woman, or he covets her office, I don’t know. Akin often referred to the senator as “Claire.” I don’t think he ever once addressed her as “Sen. McCaskill.  She didn’t call him “Todd,” but always “Congressman Akin.”

He often linked “Claire McCaskill and Barack Obama” (not “President Obama”) – guilt by association was the implication since the president isn’t winning any popularity contests in Missouri. Akin claims that McCaskill has voted with Obama 98 percent of the time.

McCaskill countered that Akin is including all votes, including procedural and confirmations, in that number. She has voted against the president’s energy policies and has tried to get the Keystone Pipeline passed over his objection.

“I don’t even agree with my mother 98 percent of the time,” McCaskill said.

The debate at a suburban St. Louis high school was the only one between the two to be televised statewide on NBC affiliates (watch it here). It did not include Libertarian candidate Jonathan Dine; he was not invited.

Two questions were asked during the debate that I hadn’t heard addressed before. On the issue of stem cell research, McCaskill said she supported all types, while Akin’s answer repeated, “I’m pro-life” so he opposes embryonic stem cell research.

On what criteria were important in nominating Supreme Court justices, Akin said someone who would “interpret existing laws and not create laws.” McCaskill, a graduate of the University of Missouri, explained she’d like to see someone with courtroom experience and who had not attended Harvard or Yale but “a really good state school.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise in Thursday night’s debate happened after the event, when Akin failed to show up for a news conference with the media.

Instead, his campaign adviser Rick Tyler answered a few questions, and said it was a family decision that Akin skip time with reporters, hinting that perhaps they’d gone to the St. Louis Cardinals–San Francisco Giants game instead.

Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment in August, which catapulted the race into the national spotlight, was not mentioned during the debate. Afterward, McCaskill said it might seem like “piling it on” to have referenced it.

Akin also won the coin toss and opted to go second with his opening and closing remarks. That meant he ended the debate by reiterating his accusation that McCaskill had funneled $39 million to her “home business.” (It’s actually her husband’s business dealings and involves subsidized rental payments to companies in which he has part-ownerships.)

The Associated Press has debunked those claims, clearing McCaskill of any wrongdoing. But because Akin waited to include his accusation in his closing statement, McCaskill could not provide a rebuttal.


Rep. Todd Akin explains his position in the final debate for Missouri’s U.S. Senate race. (Emily Rasinksi — Associated Press)

It was a reporter’s question during the debate on how the national media will view Missouri voters to McCaskill if her opponent wins that best highlighted the candidates’ opposing views.

 “I’m more worried about the people of this state and the problems they face,” McCaskill replied than about the national media. She went on to explain that she would defend the minimum wage, Social Security, Medicare and student loans and make sure the workplace is fair.

“If I lose this race, I’ll hate it because I want our government to reflect our values….I think Congressman Akin’s view is very narrow,” she said. “I’ll respect the voters, but I could care less about the national media.”

Akin seemed confused when it was his turn. “Same question?” he asked. He talked of traveling the state for the last 18 months and brought up the “government takeover of health care called Obamacare,” once again pointing out that 71 percent of Missourians don’t want it.

That number’s based on the results of Proposition C, which was on the August 2010 primary ballot. It amended the Missouri Statutes to deny the government “authority to penalize citizens for refusing to purchase private health insurance,” among other conditions. I can’t help but wonder if the numbers would be different today as provisions of Obamacare, like that of allowing young adults to remain on their parents’ health insurance policies until the age of 26, have taken effect.

Akin also mentioned his support of Second Amendment rights and of the Constitution.

But it was McCaskill’s comment that I thought put her in touch with the everyday reality of many Missourians:  “I know what it’s like to wait to pick up your dry cleaning until you get your next paycheck.”

Jobs. The economy. Access to affordable health care and higher education. These are the issues that Missourians I know are talking about.

Not whether you can own a gun.

Diana Reese is a freelance journalist in Kansas City and a former editor of Missouri Life magazine.

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.
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