COLUMBIA — Incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill traded partisan barbs with her Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, during a debate hosted here Friday by the Missouri Press Association.
McCaskill and Akin, joined by their Libertarian opponent, Jonathan Dine, talked about issues including Medicare, controlling federal spending and how best to improve the economy during the hour-long debate.
While Dine spoke to traditional Libertarian concerns, such as reducing taxes and the size of the federal government and “restoring our personal liberties,” Akin and McCaskill looked to paint one another as being too politically extreme for Missourians, with Akin tying McCaskill to President Barack Obama, while McCaskill aligned Akin with the Tea Party and Minnesota Republican Rep. Michelle Bachmann.
Once a clear front-runner, Akin has been trying to right the course of his campaign since garnering national notoriety for his comments on rape. He attempted to steer away from a question regarding his remarks, but not before taking shots from McCaskill and Dine.
McCaskill told the audience that Akin’s views are “too extreme” for Missouri, noting other controversial remarks the congressman has made relating to the federal school lunch program, federal student loans and the constitutionality of Medicare.
“It is not what he said that is the problem. It is what he believes,” McCaskill said. “I think Congressman Akin’s comments opened the window to his views for Missourians. He has apologized for those comments but they say a lot about how he views things. That is where Missourians need to pay attention.”
Dine said he found Akin’s comments “insulting and insensitive to victims of rape.”
“I was astonished to find Akin sits on the science committee yet he fails to understand basic eighth-grade biology,” Dine said.
Akin countered that he doesn’t “believe this election overall is about talk.”
“It is really about two visions of what America is. It is not about words. It is about two different voting records,” Akin said.
Akin rebuffed McCaskill’s criticisms, raising the issue of some $700 billion in cuts to Medicare laid out by the Affordable Care Act.
“Let’s talk about somebody that voted to take $700 billion out of Medicare and then wants to crusade as the big hero of Medicare. I don’t understand that,” Akin said.
McCaskill responded by saying that Akin and his fellow Republicans in the House of Representatives had found an equal amount of savings from Medicare in the Paul Ryan budget plan, but “you know what they did with the savings?
“They gave another tax cut to Kim Kardashian,” McCaskill said.
Both Akin and McCaskill said the general election will be about clear choices, though they differed on what those choices mean.
“This election is going to be quite a contrast for Missourians,” McCaskill said. “But not because we are at opposite ends — Todd and me. I am in the middle. It is just that he is so far on the fringe. That is where the contrast comes in.”
She said she has spent her time in the Senate fighting for lower taxes on families and small businesses, ending earmarks and providing greater oversight to war contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I believe we have forgotten the secret of what made America such a special country, and that is something which we see being destroyed right in front of our very eyes,” Akin countered, saying that taxes, executive orders and excessive bureaucracy pushed by Democrats is “crushing freedom in America.”
Noting the rancor between the two major parties, which many blame for a nonproductive Congress and gridlock that has blocked a slew of legislation, Dine encouraged voters to give more consideration to Libertarian candidates.
“Like many of you, I am tired of the constant fighting of the Republicans and Democrats. Beating the other team has become more important than finding solutions to America’s problems,” Dine said. “Neither party is serious about balancing the budget, or lowering your taxes, or restoring your personal freedoms.”