By DAVID A. LIEB
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill ventured into Republican-leaning southern Missouri on Thursday, warning voters that challenger Todd Akin would be part of a "very small caucus of extremists" if elected to the Senate and launching a new ad, titled, "Unfit," featuring video of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney denouncing Akin.
With polls consistently showing Romney ahead of Democratic President Barack Obama in Missouri, McCaskill's strategy is to persuade thousands of GOP voters next Tuesday that it's OK to split their ticket and send a Democrat back to the Senate. McCaskill assured: "I am not afraid to work across the aisle with my Republican colleagues. I'm proud to do it."
McCaskill's cross-state tour in her big blue RV was reminiscent of her closing-week drive six years ago, when McCaskill narrowly unseated GOP Sen. Jim Talent. This time, it's Akin, a suburban St. Louis congressman, who is trying to oust McCaskill by highlighting her support for Obama and his big-government policies such as the 2009 stimulus act and 2010 health care law.
Akin had been favored to win until he remarked in a TV interview that aired Aug. 19 that women's bodies have ways of avoiding pregnancy in "legitimate rape." Though he apologized, Akin refused calls by Romney and other top national Republicans to drop out of the race. On Thursday, Akin launched a new ad featuring praise for his candidacy from a self-described single mother who declares on camera that she had an abortion and was raped in the past.
After spending the past two days campaigning with former GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, Akin took most of Thursday off to focus on fundraising and private meetings. But he was getting support from the Republican-leaning Now or Never Political Action Committee, which launched an $800,000 TV ad campaign urging Romney supporters to vote for Akin so that he could help implement Romney's agenda.
McCaskill called that ad "ironic," noting that Romney had not only shunned Akin but that Akin had never enthusiastically embraced Romney in the primary. McCaskill's ad also features video of Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, saying of Akin: "Frankly, he would not be welcome by Republicans in the United States Senate."