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Government, Politics & Issues

Senate contest beset with early cases of political misspeaking

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 5, 2011 - The Missouri Republican Party was gleefully circulating a video Friday in which U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., was telling constituents in Columbia, Mo. that Misouri has the lowest gas taxes in the country.

"There's not another state in the union that has lower gas taxes than we do,'' McCaskill says in the video.

Actually, there are -- five states, to be exact, according the America Petroleum Institute. Alaska has the lowest gasoline taxes in the country, followed by Wyoming, New Jersey, South Carolina and Oklahoma.

Missouri has the sixth lowest gasoline tax, at 17 cents a gallon, according to the Federation of Tax Adminstration. Which still means that 44 states have higher gas taxes -- a fact that some Republicans might prefer not to highlight.

(McCaskill may have been thinking of Missouri's cigarette tax, which is indeed the nation's lowest.)

Meanwhile, one of her Republican rivals -- U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Wildwood -- is grappling with potentially more embarrassing matters.

Aside from the Democratic questions about where he actually resides, Akin's camp appears to have promoted an online survey that at last look wasn't even running in his favor. Akin spokesman Steve Taylor sent out a flurry of emails Thursday night promoting Akin's standing in an unscientific online survey conducted by the Business Journal. Taylor then fired off a corrective missive, of the "never mind" variety, to explain that the survey was still underway.

As of Friday afternoon, all Taylor appeared to have done was fire up McCaskill's allies, who apparently had jumped into the survey and swung it into her favor.

(UPDATE: Taylor said Saturday that his news releases about the survey were aimed at highlighting something of political interest, and that he fully understood it wasn't a scientific poll. Taylor said he was surprised by news coverage by various outlets tweaking his actions -- especially those making fun of his last release that told the reader to ignore the earlier ones. Taylor noted that his releases just went to the media, not to the public at large.

"I believe that my intentions in making the retraction was out of professional courtesy to those in the media that I share information with," Taylor said. "I make every attempt not to waste reporters time with incorrect information.") 

In any case, Akin also came under fire from his Republican rival, state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, whose spokesman further discredited the survey by noting that her name wasn't included as a choice.

The Steelman camp also is gigging Akin over an e-release he sent out earlier this week in which he attacked McCaskill for highlighting her stance in support of Medicare, and contended that she should be talking about Joplin instead.

Akin's attack seemed off-base since McCaskill had discussed Joplin -- and her support for federal aid -- in the same news conference where she defended Medicare. In any event, the Steelman spokesman contended that Akin was off-base to bring up Joplin at all in a campaign release.

The Steelman camp then went on to note its candidate's own differences with Akin on the Medicare issue -- another topic that some Republicans would prefer to avoid.

Dave Robertson, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said today that early flaps over seemingly minor political missteps -- some of which fall flat -- aren't surprising in the current 24/7 news cycle.

With so many news outlets available to promote candidacies and gaffes, he said, "Members of both parties try to get early advantages, no matter how small."

Added Robertson with a chuckle: "No stone can be left unturned, or unthrown. Even small ones."

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