By JIM SALTERAssociated Press
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Republican Rep. 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. Akin painted his opponent as a big-spender who votes 90 percent of the time with President Barack Obama.
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. 7.
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." He made the comments when asked whether he supported abortion in cases of rape, and the answer set off a firestorm that prompted key Republicans - including Senate leaders, the party's chairman and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney - to drop their support.
McCaskill has said little about Akin's comments in the four weeks since he made them, only that Republican voters picked him and he should remain in the race.
Asked at Friday's debate before a gathering of Missouri newspaper editors about whether Akin's remarks had a place in the race, McCaskill, 59, an abortion rights supporter, said the comments "open the window to his views for Missourians." She called many of his views extreme, saying he 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."
Akin has repeatedly apologized in televised ads about the rape comment and insists he's not leaving the race, even though the gaffe has so far cost him millions of dollars in campaign money.
Despite everything, many still consider Missouri to be a toss-up given the state's increasingly conservative population.
The hour-long debate was largely cordial. Neither candidate interrupted the other. They greeted each other at the start and parted with smiles and brief handshakes.
Libertarian candidate Jonathan Dine said both parties share in blame for problems in Washington. He said he would oppose reckless spending and earmarks.
"The government should live within its means, just like the people of Missouri," Dine said.
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