At a debate in Columbia on Friday, Sen. Claire McCaskill did her best to squash any lingering hopes that the Missouri Senate race might transcend Todd Akin’s controversial “legitimate rape” comments.
McCaskill went after Akin in her opening statement, saying that the election was a choice between two contrasts, but not because she and Akin sat at opposite extremes.
“I’m in the middle,” she said. “He’s so far on the fringe – that’s where the contrast comes in.”
The first question of the debate centered on Akin’s comments from last month, when he suggested that there was such a thing as “legitimate” rape, and that in such an event, a woman’s body had a way of shutting down and preventing pregnancy, whether his remarks should matter to voters.
“I’ve answered this question repeatedly,” Akin said. “I don’t believe this election overall is about talk. It’s really about two visions about what America is.”
“It’s not about words,” he added. “It’s about two different voting records that are the exact opposite.”
In response McCaskill went for the jugular, saying that it wasn’t just about the one statement, but about what that one statement showed about Akin and his value system.
“I think Congressman Akin’s comments opened a window to his views for Missourians,” she said.
“It’s not what he says that’s the problem,” she added. “It’s what he believes that’s the problem.”
She went on to highlight her own views on abortion rights, particularly for rape victims, as a way to contrast the two candidates.
Throughout the debate, Akin seemed tentative and almost hesitant to attack McCaskill directly. His tone remained even, and his style was more explanatory than aggressive. McCaskill, by contrast, went after him at every opportunity – claws bared, voice raised.
The timing of the debate put it in the final days before the deadline for Akin to withdraw from the race – something he has repeatedly said he will not do. Akin would have to get a court order by Tuesday, allowing him to drop out. As it is, absentee ballots with Akin’s name on them were mailed to military and overseas voters on Friday morning.
Recent polls show McCaskill leading Akin in the wake of the comments, after which Akin was all but abandoned by his own party. Many GOP groups, including the Republican National Senate Committee, have now pulled money and resources out of the race.