The Washington Post

Claire McCaskill plans to beat Todd Akin one handshake at a time

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Knocking on doors and making phone calls – that’s what will win this election, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told campaign workers at a local office Tuesday night.

Volunteers have already knocked on between 600,000 and 1 million doors and made more than 3 million phone calls, she said to cheers.

McCaskill, who’s in the hotly contested U.S. Senate seat for the state of Missouri against Rep. Todd Akin (he of the “legitimate rape” fame) entered the office and saw campaign workers diligently working at tables at one end, while the local media had camped out at the other.

There was no way to face both audiences. It did not appear to be a tough decision for the senator. She headed toward the workers.

“Sorry to turn my back on you,” she said over her shoulder to the reporters. “But they’re more important.”

No matter. The journalists scurried to move their cameras so they could face McCaskill, too.

Sen. Claire McCaskill thanks a campaign worker at an event in Kansas City Monday night. (Diana Reese/Washington Post)

“This campaign is not going to be won or lost with television ads…with a few sound bites or radio ads,” McCaskill said, a general cheering her troops forward.” She stressed it would take “people-to-people contact” with volunteers providing information for the undecided voters in search of facts.

She also stressed the importance of this race. “There’s an awful lot at stake,” she said.

Like an inspirational speaker, she asked the workers to go over “the big four” with her: “Congressman Akin wants to privatize Medicare….Congressman Akin wants to privatize Social Security and wants to lower benefits and raise the retirement age….Congressman Akin wants to abolish the minimum wage….Congressman Akin wants to do away with all federally backed student loans, Pell grants and even the Department of Education.

She called other issues “problematic” and brought up Akin’s comments last week about why he had voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that supports equal pay for equal work.

She gave an example of two nurses, one male, one female, working at a local hospital, with the same education and experience, doing the same job. “I think most Missourians would say they should be the paid the same. That’s the equality we talk about in our Constitution,” McCaskill said. “Now Congressman Akin thought the boss ought to have the freedom to pay whatever he’d like to pay…in other words, his version of freedom includes the freedom to discriminate.”

During a brief news conference, McCaskill addressed the issue of the minimum wage again with even more passion. “Most Missourians understand that the minimum wage is a floor for the middle class,” she said. “Abolish the minimum wage, and we’re in a race with China or India to pay people $2 or $3 a week. Our middle class is what makes us the envy of the world.”

But McCaskill’s response to a reporter’s question about the importance of either the Republicans or Democrats gaining a Senate majority has been twisted by a few conservative tweeters and pundits.

This race “is too important for Missouri to make it a team sport,” McCaskill said. “It’s not about red jerseys and blue jerseys.”

Gaining a majority is not the most important issue, she went on to explain. “The most important issue is celebrating those members of Congress willing to roll up their sleeves, work across the aisle, find compromises and solve problems…and not just try to win elections,” she said.

In other words, moderates able to forge bipartisan relationships are sorely needed. And that’s where McCaskill comes in. She’s co-sponsored legislation with such Republicans as  Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), and she supports a balanced budget. The National Journal ranks her as number 50 on the list of liberal-to-conservative senators, based on voting records.

Sen. Claire McCaskill congratulates Betty Watterson of Kansas City who has made nearly 30,000 phone calls since June on behalf of McCaskill. (Diana Reese — The Washington Post)

One of the volunteers who has the distinction of having made almost 30,000 phone calls since June 6 in support of McCaskill agrees with the senator’s reputation as a moderate. “I’m an independent,” Betty Watterson of Kansas City told me. She’s voted for Democrats some years, Republicans others.

“I’m going Democratic this time,” she said. She’s concerned about the future of Medicare and Social Security – not just for herself, she told me, but for others.

“Sen. McCaskill makes her own decisions and she’s thinking of the people of Missouri,” Watterson said.

A local pastor I spoke with in the campaign office also believes McCaskill will represent Missourians well. Dr. Mary Alice Newsome, who founded the Revelation Christian Center in Kansas City, said, “We don’t agree on everything, but she has a heart for God, and she has a heart for Missourians. She’s a class act.”

Yes, Democrats can be Christians, too.

Diana Reese is a freelance journalist in Kansas City and a former editor of Missouri Life magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.

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

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