KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Rep. Todd Akin is still making people mad.
“Very rarely does a politician say enough stuff to get me angry enough to come out and protest,” Wilson Pipkin, a college student in Kansas City, told me at a demonstration against Akin.
Akin was dogged by protesters at nearly every campaign stop in Kansas City on Friday, the last leg of his four-day “Common Sense” tour of Missouri.
On the sidewalk outside of the downtown hotel where he held a news conference, two dozen or more protesters, many clad in pink Planned Parenthood T-shirts, demonstrated.
Inside the meeting room, a couple dozen people had lined up behind Akin at the podium as some sort of Greek chorus to cheer him on. Turns out that the high school students in the group were international students from China, Japan, Germany, Norway and Denmark at Heartland High School and Academy, a Christian school in Belton, a nearby suburb.
This time, after giving brief remarks, Akin took questions from the media. (It had been reported that the “press conference” in St. Louis didn’t allow any questions.)
David Usborne, a reporter with the British paper the Independent, asked Akin why he was considered “so toxic,” and Akin replied with the Irish greeting of “Top ‘o’ the morning to you.”
As Usborne wrote, “Some saw it as another insensitive cultural gaffe by Mr. Akin and instantly posted the exchange on YouTube.”
Akin failed to give substantive answers or provide details when asked questions. As a response to the query about having been arrested for protesting at an anti-abortion rally, he said: “I was involved in some peaceful protests. I don’t apologize. I stand up for the things I believe in.” He went on to say that he’s against abortion (I think we knew that already) and that the country needs an energy policy. He neglected to give the details of when or where the arrest or arrests occurred.
He stood by his description of Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-Mo.) behavior as not very “ladylike” during last week’s debate. “We’ve got a couple of words in the English language, one is a gentleman and a lady. … I think those are pretty self-explanatory terms, and I was using them just as the English language uses those terms.”
I watched that debate, and unless I was too busy scribbling notes, it seemed that all three candidates were polite and well-mannered to the point almost of boredom.
Akin was also asked why women should support him, after his comment on “legitimate rape” last month. “We have a regular army of women campaigning,” he said, citing the “Women for Todd Akin” campaign event last week in St. Louis. He mentioned the need again for an energy policy. “The federal government’s so big … it’s sucking the freedom out of our country.”
Finally, another reporter questioned him on the role of women. “It’s pretty evident,” he said, launching into rhetoric I’ve heard before. “We have a long heritage of freedom that defines America. We believe there is a Creator who blessed us with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Then he railed against those “who want to divide America” by pitting the poor against the rich, identifying people by skin color and blaming the Republicans for a “war on women.”
I didn’t get a chance to ask him about equal pay for equal work. He voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, but at another event last week, this was his answer to why: “I believe in free enterprise. I don’t think the government should be telling people what you pay and what you don’t pay. I think it’s about freedom. If someone wants to hire somebody and they agree on a salary, that’s fine … the government sticking its nose into all kinds of things has gotten us into huge trouble.”
He then headed north 30 minutes in a large brown RV to the town of Liberty, where he spoke to supporters at the Clay County Republican Headquarters. It was a smaller group, with a handful of protesters outside the aging strip mall. Akin talked of how he likes to encourage young people. “It’s important to live the dreams God put in your heart,” he told the audience.
I heard Akin was going to lunch at a restaurant in North Kansas City, so I drove there, where the protesters were out in force – close to a hundred of them, from grandmotherly types to punky-looking teens.
They chanted “rape is rape” as cars passed by, honking. One gentleman called out, “Honk if you love uteruses!” A middle-aged woman with an attitude yelled, “Keep the government out of our vaginas!” Then she turned to her fellow protesters and said, “How’s that for ladylike?”
Across the street, a North Kansas City police officer sat inside a print shop, watching the show.
I asked him if this was the most excitement the town had seen (my grandparents once lived two blocks from the site of the demonstration — it really is a place where they roll up the sidewalks at sunset).
He agreed but said the demonstrators were well-behaved. “A lot of people died so they could exercise their first amendment rights,” he said.
Akin failed to show up at the restaurant, so I drove north and west to the Platte County Republican Headquarters, located in a trendy upscale strip mall.
I’d missed most of the speech, but Akin seemed more relaxed here than in previous venues. Maybe because it was the end of the day. Or it was a more receptive audience. This crowd included younger people than the one in Liberty and looked more affluent.
He did point out how he needs money. “Claire has $10 million in the bank,” he said, then launched into an explanation of how expensive television time is in the Kansas City market, as it reaches into Kansas.
Akin mentioned an upcoming fundraiser that will include J.C. Watts, who had given him some advice. “He told me you gotta be careful how you say things.” Pause. “I should’ve listened a little more closely.”
A woman in her 30s piped up from the back of the room: “I came here not knowing if I was voting for you or voting against Claire McCaskill,” she said. “After listening to you, I know I’m voting for you.”
The room erupted in cheers.
Afterward, I spoke to her and asked her what Akin had said that had convinced her.
The first item? Claire McCaskill’s position on the “death tax,” she said. Akin says McCaskill supports what he calls “the death tax,” or estate tax on family farms.
But in researching whether McCaskill is a moderate, I found just the opposite: She’s voted to provide estate tax relief at least four times, and in July, introduced legislation to maintain the current estate tax exemption of $5 million with a top rate of 35 percent.
Akin’s newest supporter also mentioned the fact that Akin and his wife had homeschooled their children, and she’s a homeschooler, too. She also supports concealed carry, as does Akin.
“He’s not afraid to talk about his faith,” she added.
There’s a sincerity in Todd Akin that touches people who follow his beliefs.
But I learned something after following him for the day: He makes Sarah Palin look good.