Mo. Senate, governor candidates to debate

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri’s candidates for U.S. Senate and governor are scheduled to meet Friday in back-to-back debates, marking the first such forums of the general election campaign.

Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill and her Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, are to debate at 10:45 a.m. Friday in Columbia. Immediately before that, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon is to face Republican challenger Dave Spence during a 9:30 a.m. debate. Both debates also are to include the Libertarian candidates — Jonathan Dine for Senate, and Jim Higgins for governor.

The hour-long candidate forums are being sponsored by the Missouri Press Association as part of its annual convention.

All the candidates have agreed to participate in the debates, though McCaskill’s campaign said Monday that the U.S. Senate is session this week and she could have a conflict if votes are occurring Friday morning.

Missouri’s Senate race shot into the national spotlight last month after Akin remarked in a TV interview that women’s bodies have ways of averting pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.” Akin has repeatedly apologized since then and has rejected calls from top Republicans — including presidential candidate Mitt Romney — to drop out of the race so that the Republican state committee can pick a replacement candidate.

Akin and McCaskill both have described their contest as one of sharp contrasts, including on the issues of health care, education, Social Security, taxes and other policies.

McCaskill, 59, is seeking her second six-year term in the Senate after previously serving as state auditor, Jackson County prosecutor and a lawmaker in both the Jackson County Legislature and the Missouri House of Representatives.

Akin, 65, is challenging McCaskill instead of seeking re-election to the 2nd Congressional District in suburban St. Louis, to which he first won election in 2000. Akin previously served in the Missouri House of Representatives.

In the governor’s race, Nixon, 56, is seeking a second four-year term. He previously served a record 16 years as state attorney general and, before that, served in the state Senate. Spence, 54, is making his first run for elected office after a career as a businessman. He stepped down last year as president and CEO of Alpha Packaging, which he bought in 1985.

The debates will occur at the Holiday Inn Executive Center in Columbia.

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