COLUMBIA, Mo. — The best line for the U.S. Senate debate in Missouri came at the end, and it wasn’t from incumbent Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) or Republican challenger Rep. Todd Akin.

Republican challenger Rep. Todd Akin, left, speaks as Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill stands by during the first debate in the Missouri Senate race Friday, Sept. 21, 2012, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) (Jeff Roberson/AP)

If you’ve followed the campaign at all, there were no surprises between McCaskill and Akin during Friday’s debate at the Missouri Press Association’s annual convention in Columbia. Akin reiterated his themes of freedom and the American dream, blaming “big government” for “crushing” our freedoms in this country.

McCaskill emphasized her record as a moderate and her history of bipartisanship. She and Akin aren’t opposites, she said. “I’m in the middle” and he’s “on the fringe.”

Dine blamed both parties for America being “on the verge of financial collapse,” but wondered why Republicans, who support smaller government, want to tell you “who to love” and what to do with your money and your body.

The first question to the three candidates addressed the elephant in the room, asking Akin about his infamous comment on “legitimate rape.” He said the election was “not about words” but was “about two visions” for the country and “two different voting records.”

McCaskill said that Akin’s comments “opened the window to his views.” Armed with facts and figures, she said his vision for America includes privatizing Social Security and Medicare, abolishing the minimum wage, eliminating the school lunch program and doing away with student loans.

“It’s not what he said that’s the problem, it’s what he believes that’s the problem,” she concluded.

Both sides politely said the other was lying. Akin claims that it takes “a lot of guts” for McCaskill to call herself a moderate when looking at her voting record.

In a discussion of Medicare, McCaskill said, “As President Clinton says, it takes a lot of brass to be against something that you’re for.”

Akin has voted for $700 billion in Medicare savings while blaming McCaskill’s support for the Health Care Act as destroying the future of Medicare.

Akin claimed that “Obamacare” would result in limiting health care for seniors. “This is rationing,” he said, and promised to vote for its repeal after he’s elected to the Senate.

McCaskill pointed out popular aspects of the bill such as allowing young adults to remain on their parents’ policies until age 26. She promised that it would “not cut one dime from Medicare.”

McCaskill also invoked the name of Harry Truman a few times as she talked about her record of ferreting out waste.

A question near and dear to the hearts of the newspaper people in attendance concerned the future of the U.S. Postal Service. (Many small-town papers are delivered by mail these days.)

The contrasting styles of Akin and McCaskill became obvious. Akin first pointed out the “constitutionality” of the Post Office (no surprise; he’s a stickler for following the Constitution), while describing how “the postman” is “part of the American tradition” and fondly recalling knowing his postman and “hoping for a letter” or “waiting for a package” to arrive.

Despite that fondness for the Post Office, he sticks to his guns that revenue must support expenditures. That could mean higher charges for services.

McCaskill countered by offering a quote of Akin’s: “We can keep raising prices, and if they get too high, then the private sector can take over.”

She said that the United States boasts the “finest, most reliable” postal service but the requirement of prefunding the pension and health-care plans for 75 years was causing the cash-flow problem.

No other government entity or private business must do the same. She’s fought the battle to preserve rural post offices, which are often the heart of many small towns, and to keep Saturday delivery, crucial for seniors who depend on the mail for their medications.

But the bipartisan Senate bill to do this is stalled in the House.

That became a major theme throughout the debate: Each blaming the other for the gridlock in Congress with the failure of either the House or the Senate to move on much-needed legislation, such as the jobs bill for veterans that McCaskill supports.

When all was said and done, McCaskill appeared to have the details in her grasp, while Akin stuck to describing his vision of America and freedom.

But there was one surprise: All three of the candidates, when asked how to address the issue of obesity, agreed that the federal government should not tell us what to eat.

McCaskill even admitted, “I’m a woman in my fifties and I have seven sizes of clothes in my closet.” Oh, how we can all relate! (Although a local political reporter tweeted “TMI” on that point. But he’s a guy. He doesn’t understand.)

The closing statements emphasized each candidate’s love for America. Akin reiterated his familiar theme of protecting our God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

 But it was McCaskill who crossed the aisle and paraphrased President Ronald Reagan’s famous quote when she said, “We have different views on how to reach that shining place on the mountain.”

Diana Reese is a freelance journalist in Kansas City. Follow her on Twitter @dianareese.