McCaskill attacks Akin with TV advert featuring rape victims


Republican challenger Todd Akin’s contentious comments on rape have not been forgotten, writes LARA MARLOWEin Washington

IN THREE of the most compelling TV advertisements of the general election campaign, middle-class white women identified only as Diana, Joanie and Rachel stare into the camera, describe themselves as rape victims and call on the people of Missouri to vote for incumbent Democratic senator Claire McCaskill, not her Republican challenger, the six-term representative Todd Akin.

Akin unleashed a firestorm in August when he told a television interviewer that women who are raped rarely become pregnant because: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Akin – a member of the House science committee – cited unnamed doctors for his claim, which has no basis in science. The implication was that women might invent a rape story to obtain an abortion.

Two of the three women interviewed by the McCaskill campaign describe themselves as Christians and opponents of abortion. “I am a Republican and a pro-life mother and a rape survivor,” says Diana. “In hospital, I was offered emergency contraception. Because of my personal beliefs, I declined. No woman should be denied that choice.”

Rachel says she was “brutally raped in a home invasion” that emergency contraception – which Akin would ban – enabled her to take control of the situation. “At the worst moment of her life, no woman should be denied that choice.”

Until Mitt Romney surged in opinion polls after the first presidential debate, it was assumed that Democrats would keep control of the Senate in the November election. But with Obama and Romney virtually tied in the polls on the eve of last night’s second debate, the Senate again appears within the grasp of Republicans.

Following the interview that made “legitimate rape” Todd Akin’s middle name, the Republican establishment deserted him en masse, Romney among them. Vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan – with whom Akin had co-sponsored a draft law on abortion in cases of “forcible rape” – telephoned Akin to plead with him to drop out for the sake of the party.

Had it not been for the support of Fox News presenter Mike Huckabee, a former governor of neighbouring Arkansas and former presidential candidate, Akin might have given up. Huckabee’s wife, Jane, is now criss-crossing Missouri in a bus to campaign for Akin. His candidacy has heightened the rift between establishment and Tea Party conservatives.

With moderates increasingly an endangered species on Capitol Hill, some Republicans cringe at the thought of winning the upper chamber through Akin’s election. But the Senate conservatives fund is supporting Akin. So are the failed presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Gingrich has described the Missouri race as “an opportunity for the liberal media to be shocked” and a “fundamental cultural war”.

The St Louis Post-Dispatch calls the Missouri Senate race “grim and depressing” and laments “the snide and snarky outsiders who mock Missourians as yahoos”. The state’s leading newspaper accuses Akin of “peddling simplistic solutions” to fearful “values voters” and describes a “Planet Todd” where global warming is a myth, taxation violates freedom, the Pilgrim fathers were escaping socialism and school lunch programmes foster dependency.

Sources who have met Akin describe him as totally inhabited by his Christian faith, a true believer.

“If you look at Todd Akin’s record in Congress, he’s to the far right of the Republican party,” says Ray Hartmann, editor of St Louis weekly and the host of a local political talk show. Hartmann believes Akin is too extreme to be elected, but a new survey by Wenzel Strategies, a Republican-leaning pollster, shows him leading McCaskill at 49 to 45 per cent.

Allegations of conflict of interest are Akin’s blunt weapon against McCaskill. As reported by the Associated Press last week, low-income housing companies, at least partially owned by her husband Joseph Shepard, received $39 million in federal subsidies since McCaskill took office in 2007. McCaskill’s campaign likens her votes for funding for the departments of housing and agriculture to a member of Congress who has a relative in the military voting for the defence budget. It points out McCaskill had voted No on some Bills that would have helped her husband’s business, which pays him up to $2.6 million annually.

The opening page on Todd Akin’s website shows piles of $100 bills, with the caption “40 million reasons to fire Claire McCaskill”. An image of McCaskill in sunglasses next to the Capitol dome says “Claire McCaskill corrupt”. The narration over her swearing-in photo intones: “The moment her hand came off the Bible, it was into our pockets.”

Yesterday and today, Akin received more reinforcements from Arkansas, in the form of the Duggar family, who are holding testimonial and musical events on the candidates’ behalf.

The Duggars are famous for their reality television show, 19 Kids and Counting, which has aired on TLC since 2008. Fundamentalist Christians such as Akin, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar “decided to allow God to determine the number of children” they would have. Michelle has given birth on average every year and a half, including two sets of twins. All the children’s names start with the letter J. Michelle miscarried their 20th child, Jubilee Shalom, last December.

This is not the Duggars’ first foray into politics. Jim Bob served as a state legislator in Arkansas for three years. They campaigned for Rick Santorum in the Republican primaries, then switched their allegiance to Romney when “Santo” lost. In 2008, they campaigned for Governor Huckabee.

McCaskill – and President Obama – may take heart from the fact that so far, the Duggars have always backed the loser.