ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill cited new national employment figures as evidence of "positive progress" Friday while asserting that economic issues could work to her advantage in her re-election bid against Republican congressman Todd Akin.
But as McCaskill's emphasized the economy, one of Akin's most nationally influential supporters — former GOP presidential hopeful and political commentator Mike Huckabee — urged Missouri residents to vote based on their faith, not "simply how much money they have left in their pockets."
Huckabee has defended Akin even as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and other top party officials abandoned him because of Akin's remark in mid-August that women's bodies have ways of averting pregnancy in "legitimate rape." On Friday, Huckabee addressed more than 100 Christian pastors and leaders gathered in suburban Kansas City, urging them to implore their congregations to consider Biblical principles when voting.
Missouri's close Senate contest is one of a few nationally that could help determine party control of the chamber. Hucakbee called the Missouri Senate race "critical," asserting McCaskill has "an absolutely awkward if not deplorable record when it comes to the sanctity of life and religious freedom."
"There are some issues that are important, like jobs and taxes and the economy," Huckabee said. "But some issues rise above the temporal, they are eternal, and the issues of life and marriage are non-negotiable."
Campaigning Friday in Kansas City and St. Joseph, McCaskill cited a long list of economic issues that she said show "Akin is way out of the mainstream."
She noted Akin's opposition to the federal minimum wage and federally issued student loans, which she said affect middle-class families. She highlighted Akin's previous statement that he believes Medicare is unconstitutional and his willingness to raise the eligibility age for Social Security. McCaskill also noted Akin's opposition to the federal farm bill. Akin has said he opposed farm bills because they contain a growing amount of money for food stamp programs for lower-income families.
McCaskill described Friday's release of October employment figures — showing a gain of 171,000 jobs and an unemployment rate of 7.9 percent — as "more positive progress" and evidence that "we're going in the right direction."
"If you look at congressman Akin versus me, you're going to see a very clear, objective proof-point that I am much stronger for Missouri's families in terms of their economic security," McCaskill said at a news conference in front of a Kansas City employment office.
At a St. Joseph campaign event outside the Buchanan County Courthouse, McCaskill was interrupted by Cory Stephens, a self-described anarchist who shouted: "McCaskill you support war ... You're a killer." A couple of McCaskill supporters attempted to physically drag away Stephens before a McCaskill campaign aide intervened and allowed him to stay. McCaskill later made a point to shake his hand, telling him: "You're welcome here. I'm sorry you felt the need to interrupt."
As McCaskill prepared to leave, Julie Poff arrived at the courthouse to cast an absentee ballot, shouting aloud her intention to vote for McCaskill. Poff, who is disabled by a variety of medical conditions, said she receives Medicare and Social Security benefits.
"Everything Todd Akin believes against is everything my life is," Poff said. "It's like good versus evil in my eyes."
Shortly before McCaskill arrived at the courthouse, Don and Pat Evenson emerged wearing "I voted" stickers. The retirees said they cast their ballots for Romney and — somewhat reluctantly — for Akin, citing their opposition to McCaskill.
"He doesn't think before he speaks on important issues to women," Pat Evenson said. But "she's got a lot of perks for being senator, and they need to be stopped."
The Evensons cited reports that businesses affiliated with McCaskill's husband, Joseph Shepard, have received millions of dollars of federal housing subsidies. Akin also has been running an ad asserting that Shepard closed a business deal in the Senate dining room. McCaskill on Friday called that "pure fantasy," saying "it has absolutely no evidence behind it."
McCaskill said Akin was engaged in "a character assassination" against her full of "distortions and lies."
Akin campaign adviser Rick Tyler, who attended McCaskill's news conference in Kansas City, denied those assertions and defended the accuracy of Akin's ads. He said McCaskill was distorting Akin's beliefs.
"Claire McCaskill likes to say that Todd Akin is on the extreme, but I would say that here in Missouri, Todd Akin is in the middle," Tyler said. "Claire McCasklil's ideology would fit probably very well in Massachusetts."