With a deadline to remove his name from the Missouri ballot fast approaching, Rep. Todd Akin (R) squared off against Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) at their first debate Friday morning. The Democrat cast the Republican as “extreme” while Akin sought to draw attention to the senator's voting record.
Akin, who stoked national controversy last month when he said in an interview that “legitimate rape” rarely causes pregnancy, was asked by the debate’s moderator how much the comment should matter in the campaign. He responded that the contest should center on action, not talk.
“I’ve answered this question repeatedly,” Akin said at the debate, which was part of the Missouri Press Association's annual conference. “I don’t believe this election overall is about talk. It’s really about two visions about what America is.”
He added: “It’s not about words. It’s about two different voting records.”
Both Democrats and Republicans swiftly denounced Akin’s controversial remarks last month, leaving the congressman isolated from the power center of his party, which leveled immense pressure on him to drop his bid and will not devote resources to helping him.
But Akin’s shown no signs that he is willing to step aside. He’s repeatedly said he intends to stay in the race all the way to November. He recently signed on Rick Tyler, a Republican communications strategist who worked on Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign. Gingrich himself is slated to appear at a fundraiser for Akin on Monday.
McCaskill said during the debate that Akin’s comments “opened the window to his views,” which she argued should trouble voters.
“It’s not what he said that is the problem. It’s what he believes that is the problem,” McCaskill said.
McCaskill called Akin’s views “out of the mainstream” and reiterated her position on contraception in cases of rape, which stands in contrast to the Republican's.
“I believe a rape victim should be allowed emergency contraception,” McCaskill said.
Akin has until close of business next Tuesday to try to get off the ballot. To do so, he'd have to file a legal petition and reimburse the state for the cost of ballots that have already been printed with his name. But as The Fix's Aaron Blake wrote on Thursday, the effective deadline is today, because military ballots must be sent out by Saturday.
Libertarian candidate Jonathan Dine joined Akin and McCaskill onstage at Friday’s debate. The candidates fielded questions on a range of topics including education, health care, and foreign policy.
From the outset, McCaskill pitched herself as political moderate. “I’m in the middle,” she said, before noting that Akin is “far on the fringe.” Akin repeatedly underscored a call for limited government.
Polling shows that Akin has clearly suffered political damage in the wake of his comments. If he stays in the race, the onslaught of Democratic attack ads Akin is expected to face after the Tuesday deadline passes threatens to further damage his standing.
Democrats, who believe that McCaskill’s odds would likely be better against Akin than a hand-picked Republican replacement, have steered clear of leveling wide-scale, expensive paid media attacks against the congressman, so as not to give him further incentive to leave the race. But after Tuesday, look for their posture to change quickly.
In her closing statement, McCaskill said that both she and Akin love their country. But “we have a different view about how we get to that shining place on the mountain,” she said.