Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill’s elderly mother has died, adding yet another twist to what has become the most unpredictable race in this election cycle.
Betty Anne Ward McCaskill died from renal failure on Monday, eight days before her daughter discovers whether she has won a second six-year term in the Senate. A memorial service will be held in St. Louis on Sunday, just two days before the election.
Immediately her opponent, Republican Todd Akin, offered his condolences, saying "Our thoughts and prayers are with the whole McCaskill family right now."
McCaskill, 59, had been off the campaign trail for much of the last week as she spent time with her mother during her last days, but her television ads continue to be screened on stations throughout the state.
|Claire McCaskill (AP Photo)
One, taking a Halloween theme, plays off the defining issue of the race, Akin’s controversial remark that women who are victims of “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant — and therefore do not require abortions — because their bodies shut down.
One woman in the ad simply says, “Todd Akin is scary,” before it cuts to him making his comment. Then another woman states, “He has no idea how it even works and he wants to legislate about it?"
Akin, whose long record of opposition to abortion goes back to when he was arrested three times during pro-life protests in the 1980s, has repeatedly apologized for his comment, which he made within days of being selected in a hotly contested primary. But it has still dogged him throughout the campaign.
It caused most Republicans, from presidential candidate Mitt Romney down, to call on him to step aside, but he refused, despite being cut off from the central party’s money machine. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, were two of the few nationally known names who stood by him throughout.
However in recent weeks, as it became clear that the GOP needs the state if it is to regain control of the Senate, many have returned. Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma stumped for Akin, 65, in St. Louis on Monday.
Missouri was top of the Republicans’ list of Senate seats it needed to regain before Akin’s faux pas. It was seen as almost a sure thing with Akin leading by as much as 11 percentage points in polls in mid August.
|Todd Akin (AP Photo)
But then came his Aug. 19 bombshell and immediately McCaskill took a 10-point lead. That has since diminished, but she is still holding on.
The most recent poll, by Mason-Dixon, gives her a 45 percent to 43 percent lead, with a significant 9 percent of voters saying they are still undecided.
Throughout it all, Akin has done what he can to appeal to women. In one ad he promises he will help families by improving the economy. “Married 37 years, the father of six, Todd Akin puts our families first in everything he does,” the ad says.
In another ad, Akin accuses the incumbent of “arrogance” and “corruption.”
McCaskill last year had to reimburse taxpayers for flights she took on a charter plane she owns with her husband and other investors. She has denied allegations that her husband, Joseph Shepard, used the Senate dining room to cut deals.
Perhaps more damaging, companies in which Shepard had a stake benefited from government stimulus finds that McCaskill voted on, according to reports by The Associated Press and the National Legal and Policy Center. McCaskill’s campaign has responded that her stimulus voting record does not show any consistent intention to give money companies linked to her husband.
McCaskill is the first woman to be elected to Senate from Missouri in her own right. Before defeating Republican incumbent Jim Talent in 2006, she had served in the state Legislature and as state auditor. She made an unsuccessful run for governor in 2004.
Akin has represented suburban St. Louis in Congress since 2001. He earned an engineering degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and also holds a master of divinity degree from Covenant Theological Seminary.
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