By Kim Geiger, Tribune Washington Bureau –
WASHINGTON — As Republicans come to grips with Todd Akin’s continuing candidacy in the Missouri Senate race, Akin and his opponent Claire McCaskill squared off Friday in their first debate.
Not surprisingly, the event opened with discussion of Akin’s now-infamous statement that women’s bodies can prevent pregnancy in the event of a “legitimate rape.”
“I’ve answered this question repeatedly, and I don’t believe that this election overall is about talk,” Akin said, dismissing the question of whether the comment should factor into the election. He repeatedly avoided discussing the comments, preferring instead to frame the election as a choice between “two visions of what America is.”
But McCaskill wasn’t so eager to brush the rape comments aside.
“He has apologized for those comments, but they say a lot about how he views things,” McCaskill said. “I believe a rape victim should be allowed to have emergency contraception to avoid pregnancy. Todd Akin does not. I believe his view is extreme and out of the mainstream.”
An incumbent who was at the top of the GOP’s list of vulnerable Democrats this election cycle, McCaskill had pegged Akin as her preferred opponent during the Republican primary because of his extremely conservative record.
“It’s not what he said that’s the problem, it’s what he believes that’s the problem,” McCaskill said.
Akin and McCaskill were joined on the debate stage by Jonathan Dine, the Libertarian candidate who is not considered a serious contender for the seat.
Dine noted that Akin is a member of the House Science, Space & Technology Committee and said that the remarks on rape were evidence that Washington is out of touch with the real world.
“I was astonished to find that Akin sits on the science committee, yet he fails to understand basic eighth-grade biology,” Dine said.
Akin, a six-term congressman, has apologized for suggesting that some rapes aren’t legitimate, and he has acknowledged that it is possible to become pregnant from rape.
Still, many in his party — including Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney — called for him to drop out of the race, and major GOP money sources like the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Karl Rove’s Crossroads groups said they would not send resources Akin’s way.
But his rogue campaign has pressed on and shows no signs of stopping. Tuesday is the last day that Akin can remove his name from the ballot. Doing so would require a court order.
Akin’s defiance has forced some Republicans to reconsider helping him.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., told the Hill newspaper that he will consider spending some of his campaign funds to boost Akin, and he wants the National Republican Senatorial Committee to do the same.
“I think we need to take every Republican candidate around the country and do what we can to elect them,” DeMint said. “He’s certainly within striking distance. If the people of Missouri — if they’re going to throw him out because of one mistake, that’s tough.”