JEFFERSON CITY — Sen. Claire McCaskill was so disturbed by Rush Limbaugh's description of a law school student as a "slut" and "prostitute" that she decided to repeat his rhetoric, featuring it in a fundraising appeal sent to thousands of supporters around the country. The tactic has paid off nicely for the Democrat's re-election campaign.
McCaskill is one of several female Democratic candidates facing competitive races who are seeking to capitalize on the conservative radio host's comments to fuel their quests for the U.S. Senate or House. Their message: You can help fight Limbaugh — and, by extension, Republicans or tea party activists — by financing candidates who will stand up for women's rights.
It's not clear exactly how much the Democratic candidates have raised from their turn-the-tables fundraising appeals. But McCaskill's campaign said she exceeded the goal spelled out in last weekend's Limbaugh-themed email blast to raise $10,000 in a day.
"It's been one of our top fundraising emails for Claire," said McCaskill campaign manager Adrianne Marsh.
Limbaugh has apologized for his comments about Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student who testified to congressional Democrats in support of their national health care policy that would compel her Jesuit college's health plan to cover her birth control. But the apology hasn't deterred some Democrats from continuing to repeat Limbaugh's remarks.
On Tuesday, for example, Minnesota congressional candidate Tarryl Clark sent an email fundraising appeal with the subject line "Apology not Accepted." Clark asked for "$25, $50 or more" to send a message "that publically degrading women is not going to fly anymore."
Clark is the only woman in a three-way Democratic race for the right to challenge freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack. The fundraising email has generated several thousand dollars — a quicker response than is typical for such pleas, said Clark campaign manager Brandon Pinette.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn, who because of redistricting faces a primary against a fellow Democrat, Rep. Laura Richardson in Los Angeles, also sent a fundraising email Tuesday highlighting how "a right wing extremist used his radio show to hurl derogatory slurs at a young woman." Hahn asked for donations of $20 to $40.
The president of the National Federation of Republican Women said Wednesday that Limbaugh's words were inappropriate and diverted the health care debate away from the Republican assertion that the insurance mandate for contraception infringes on First Amendment freedom of religion protections.
"I think it's unfortunate that this has come about, and it wasn't just with McCaskill," said Rae Lynne Chornenky, president of the Republican women's group. "We need to get the debate back on track on the issues."
But McCaskill, the senior senator from Limbaugh's childhood home of Missouri, seems intent on highlighting his comments, and she has the added element of being personally criticized by the radio host. Last week, Limbaugh aired a McCaskill audio clip in which the senator bemoaned the loss of moderate lawmakers in Washington and noted that a lot of Missouri voters "want me to be stubbornly independent."
Limbaugh quipped: "It sounds to me, Claire, like they don't want you to be a commie babe liberal."
On Monday, McCaskill launched an online poll about whether Limbaugh should be included in the Hall of Famous Missourians, as he is scheduled to be. In more than 24 hours, the survey generated more than 10,000 email addresses for McCaskill's campaign, Marsh said. On Tuesday, McCaskill sent out another Limbaugh-related fundraising email — this time from her 83-year-old mother with the subject line of "Who are you calling a 'slut' or a 'babe'?"