(Charlie Riedel / Associated…)
WASHINGTON – Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill secured a second term in the Senate, defeating Republican challenger Todd Akin in a hard-fought contest that gained national attention over controversial remarks about rape and pregnancy.
McCaskill had been a top GOP target since she was elected in 2006, when Democrats took control of the Senate. On Tuesday, the Associated Press and NBC projected McCaskill would win.
In their quest to regain control of the chamber, Republicans considered Missouri one of their best opportunities to pick up a Democrat-held seat this year. The plan was to play up McCaskill’s ties to President Obama, who had become increasingly unpopular even though he lost Missouri by less than 4,000 votes in 2008.
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But the effort was fraught from the beginning. A three-way Republican primary produced no clear establishment favorite. Akin, a six-term congressman, won with 36% of the vote.
McCaskill, pleased to be running against a Republican with his own voting record in Congress, immediately painted Akin as “one of the most fringe, conservative congressmen in the United States.” And Akin did his part to reinforce that message when he said that women’s bodies can prevent pregnancy in the case of “legitimate rape.”
The comment sparked a firestorm that raged into the presidential campaign, providing Democrats fresh fodder to cast Akin – and Republicans generally – as extreme and out-of-touch.
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Recognizing that a loss in Missouri could put an end to their efforts to regain control of the Senate, Mitt Romney and key Republican groups called on Akin to drop out of the race in time for the party to run an alternate candidate.
Akin refused. “This is an election, not a selection,” he said.
But the damage had been done. The comment swiftly erased Akin’s lead in the race, dashing Republicans’ hopes of ousting McCaskill, perhaps the most hated Democrat in Missouri.
McCaskill was state auditor when she successfully challenged Republican Sen. Jim Talent for his seat in 2006. As a senator, she has applied her background as an auditor to an agenda focused on government accountability. She sponsored a bill to give federal inspectors general more independence, and she established a commission on wartime profiteering.
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She also has close ties to Obama. She was the first female senator to endorse him in his 2008 primary battle against Hillary Clinton. And she backed the so-called Obamacare law, which proved extremely unpopular in her home state. Voters there rejected it in 2010 when they overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative to invalidate the law’s requirement that people carry insurance.
Akin represents the suburbs surrounding St. Louis. His legislative efforts have focused mostly on social issues, including multiple attempts to strip lower courts of jurisdiction in challenges to the Pledge of Allegiance.
Akin brought the legislation after a federal appeals court in California ruled that the reference in the Pledge to “one nation under God” was unconstitutional. The bills died in the Senate.