COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Republican congressman Todd Akin’s comments about rape are evidence of his extremism on several issues, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill said Friday at the first debate between the Missouri Senate candidates.
Republicans have long looked at Missouri as a winnable state in the effort to gain control of the Senate. Akin, 65, a six-term congressman from suburban St. Louis, won a hotly contested three-way race for the GOP Senate nomination on Aug. 6.
But just weeks later, Akin set off a furor in a televised interview by saying that women’s bodies have a natural defense against pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.” The comments came in response when asked whether he supported abortion in cases of rape and prompted key Republicans—including Senate leaders, the party’s chairman and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney—to drop their support.
Akin has repeatedly apologized in televised ads and insists he’s not leaving the race.
Despite Akin’s gaffe, many still consider Missouri to be a toss-up given the state’s increasingly conservative population.
Asked at Friday’s debate before a gathering of Missouri newspaper editors about whether Akin’s remarks still had a place in the race, McCaskill, 59, an abortion rights supporter, said the comments “open the window to his views for Missourians.”
She said Akin wants to end federal funding for school lunch programs and privatize Medicare and Social Security.
“It’s not what he said that is the problem,” McCaskill said. “It’s what he believes that is the problem.”
Akin responded by saying the election was “not about words. It’s about two different voting records that are the exact opposite.” He painted McCaskill as a big-spender who votes 90 percent of the time with President Barack Obama.
McCaskill touted herself as a moderate, citing a survey showing that she was 50th—right in the middle—in a ranking of the 100 senators from most liberal to most conservative.
Akin said that based on her record, it “takes a lot of guts” to call herself a moderate.
Akin, McCaskill and Libertarian candidate Jonathan Dine debated at the Missouri Press Association’s annual conference in Columbia.