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Missouri's U.S. Senate contest gets last-minute jolt from old anti-abortion arrests and Larry Flynt

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 4, 2012 - As they campaign toward Tuesday’s closely watched finish, Missouri U.S. Senate rivals – Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill and Republican rival Todd Akin -- are back in the national news for unexpected reasons.

Akin’s 1980s arrests during anti-abortion protests have attracted more attention from national outlets – including the Washington Post, Politico and the National Journal -- as a result of Right Wing Watch’s release of more police documents that show Akin was arrested at least eight times outside abortion clinics in the St. Louis area.

That’s twice the number previously disclosed or acknowledged by Akin. He was not charged with a crime in any of the instances.

And Hustler magazine founder Larry Flynt ran a half-page ad in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Sunday edition, in which Flynt offers $1 million to Akin if he can provide scientific evidence to back up his August statement that victims of “legitimate rape’’ rarely get pregnant because their bodies can “shut that whole thing down.” Akin has since apologized.

Flynt has made a similar offer to Indiana’s GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate, Richard Mourdock, who touched off a similar furor recently when he said that he opposes allowing pregnant rape victims to get abortions because he believes that “God caused that to happen.”

Akin declined to discuss either matter Saturday, but campaign consultant Rick Tyler played down the renewed attention to the congressman's old arrests – “World’s most boring rap sheet” – and sought to link McCaskill to Flynt.

“It’s nice to see that Claire McCaskill has a new ‘spokespig’ in the War on Women,’’ Tyler said. “She should denounce him.”

McCaskill campaign manager Adrianne Marsh told reporters during a conference call earlier Saturday that the campaign knew nothing about Flynt’s ad beyond what had been reported in the press.

McCaskill, Akin spend Saturday on the road

McCaskill spent Saturday campaigning in mid-Missouri, including a stop in Columbia, Mo., where she reaffirmed her primary attacks against Akin, centering on his criticisms of Social Security, Medicare and federal involvement in the student-loan program and subsidized school lunches in the public schools.

Meanwhile, Akin took a one-day campaign bus tour across the state, which began in Kansas City and ended in St Louis.

Marsh said that she was “stunned’’ by Akin’s public observations in Kansas City that the furor over his “legitimate rape’’ comment may have energized social-conservative supporters.

“I can’t imagine that many people would find it a motivating factor to vote for him,’’ Marsh said.

Even so, Akin attracted several hundred supporters – including dozens of teenagers – to his final public rally Saturday night at Westminster Christian Academy in Chesterfield. The crowd packed the school’s cafeteria, where allies had organized a chili dinner for attendees.

Akin couched much of his speech in religious terms as he laid out what he viewed as the choice facing Missouri voters on Tuesday.

Akin began by repeating many of his longstanding accusations against McCaskill, who Republicans portray as a big-spending liberal too close to President Barack Obama.

But he also declared that Americans need to remember “the secret of America’s greatness. … It’s that visionary idea that there is a Creator that gave us life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Akin blasts liberals, lauds God

“I think the liberals really hate that word ‘Creator’ now,” Akin said. “…We think our lives, our liberties and the pursuit of happiness is something that comes from Almighty God, not Almighty Washington D.C.”

As the audience cheered, he added, “There’s some people trying to get rid of God. I don’t know how you do it. But there’s some people trying to vote him out of office.”

(Akin had ignited controversy in mid-2011 when he had made similar assertions that “at the heart of liberalism really is a hatred of God.” The congressman had later apologized and said his comments had been misconstrued.)

Akin concluded Saturday night,  with tears in his eyes, by predicting that “come round Tuesday, there’s going to be some people a little bit surprised’’ by his victory.

He asserted his detractors will then say, “Akin, you’re some sort of weirdo guy from Missouri. How did all of this happen?” Akin touched off a standing ovation when he replied that he will give credit to his supporters who love God and “want a different future from where Washington is leading us.”

Akin and McCaskill will each be off the campaign trail on Sunday. Akin will be in church, his campaign said. McCaskill will participate in a memorial service in midtown for her mother, Betty Anne McCaskill, who died Monday at age 84.

Both campaigns say they’re still working on Monday’s schedule, but Akin consultant Tyler said their focus will largely be on energizing base supporters in order to make sure they turn out at the polls Tuesday.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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