JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin stood with his eyes closed and head bowed Saturday in the center of Missouri's Capitol, surrounded by Christians who laid their hands on his shoulders as they lifted up prayers for him to God in the closing weeks of his campaign against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
The prayer service, which was not publicized by Akin's campaign and did not focus on him exclusively, was nonetheless emblematic of the inroads Akin has made among Christians, who comprise a significant portion of Missouri's electorate. Later Saturday, Akin was campaigning in Springfield with former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a Baptist pastor turned political commentator who has a strong following among Christians.
Huckabee was among the first to publicly reaffirm his support for Akin after the suburban St. Louis congressman apologized in mid-August for remarking that women's bodies have ways of avoiding pregnancy in what he called "legitimate rape." Huckabee stood by Akin even as other top Republicans - including presidential candidate Mitt Romney - called on Akin to quit the race so that the state GOP committee could pick a replacement candidate for the Nov. 6 election.
Akin, a Presbyterian who has a Master of Divinity degree, also has appeared at large meetings of pastors in Kansas City and St. Louis this year and has participated in various events that have included prayer.
"There are a lot of people who consider themselves to be Christians, and when they come out and vote, it can have a very big influence on elections," Akin told The Associated Press after the Capitol prayer event.
The prayer service was sponsored in part by Prayer Force One, a group that has been traveling across the country in a bus seeking to unite Christians in prayer. Among those financially supporting Prayer Force One is Missouri's Republican gubernatorial candidate Dave Spence, who also took a turn standing in the Capitol Rotunda as people huddled around him in prayer Saturday.
The event was not large. It drew about 30 people, two-thirds of whom joined in the prayer circle. Spence, who is challenging Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, said he was involved in the event because of the importance of prayer, not politics.
People prayed that God would "put a shield around (Spence) against the flaming arrows of the enemy" and, citing a passage from Psalms, prayed for Akin: "May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble." They also prayed that Akin would draw people to God.
Akin did not mention McCaskill or political issues when speaking at the prayer service. Instead, he recounted the faith of the Pilgrims and George Washington.
"We don't know who's going to win or lose. That's in God's hands," Akin said.
McCaskill spokeswoman Caitlin Legacki said the Democratic senator also has reached out to Christians.
"Claire has been reaching out to all Missourians, including and especially people of faith, because we believe that values like protecting Medicare and Social Security, expanding access to education and making sure we have a strong safety net for all of our citizens are values that all Missourians can agree on," Legacki said.