JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill sought to make her case for re-election Wednesday with the aid of Virginia Sen. Jim Webb by highlighting their efforts to follow through on a 2006 campaign pledge to root out wasteful spending in wartime contracting.
McCaskill's campaign swing with Webb, a St. Joseph native, marked the Democratic senator's latest initiative in a monthlong effort to build support among military families and rural residents, two traditionally Republican-leaning constituencies in Missouri. It comes as her Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, is just beginning to re-emerge politically from his inflammatory remarks about rape and abortion that sidetracked his campaign and led many top Republicans to abandon him.
Both Akin and McCaskill appear ready to turn the public's attention to other issues on which they promise plenty of contrasts.
On Wednesday, McCaskill sought to remind people that she had proposed as a candidate six years ago to create a commission to look into wasteful military spending — similar to what then-Missouri Sen. Harry Truman had done during World War II. She and Webb subsequently sponsored a measure creating the Commission on Wartime Contracting. The panel released a report last year estimating that as much as $60 billion had been lost to waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade because of lax oversight of contractors, poor planning and corruption.
"It's a promise kept," McCaskill said in a conference call with reporters while driving between campaign stops in Independence and St. Joseph.
"I want to remind Missourians that there have been real instances where I've tackled problems in a bipartisan way and actually accomplished things on their behalf in ways that not only saves taxpayers money but strengthens our military," said McCaskill, who heads a Senate subcommittee on contracting oversight.
Webb, who is not seeking a second Senate term, said McCaskill's work on wartime contracting exemplifies "what we need in terms of leadership in the Senate."
Akin, however, debuted a new television ad Tuesday taking aim at McCaskill's record. The ad highlights McCaskill's frequent support of President Barack Obama's agenda, including his health care overhaul and stimulus act. It asserts that McCaskill "raised our taxes but didn't pay her own" — an apparent reference to $320,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest McCaskill paid last year on a private airplane in St. Louis County.
An Akin spokesman said the congressman plans to resume Senate campaign appearances Thursday for the first time since a TV interview aired Aug. 19 in which Akin remarked that women's bodies have ways of avoiding pregnancy in "legitimate rapes." Since then, Akin has repeatedly apologized while appearing on various radio and TV shows. In recent days, Akin has sought to turn the attention back to his policy differences with McCaskill.
"While she's a nice person, I disagree with her on every single point," Akin told St. Louis TV station KSDK. "I believe the country is being destroyed. I believe the loss of jobs and the sour economy are at least indicators that we're on the wrong track."
McCaskill asserted Wednesday that Akin missed a shot to prevent wasteful spending when he voted against a 2003 amendment that required competitive bids for all government contracts relating to Iraq's oil infrastructure.
Akin spokesman Ryan Hite said the House Armed Services Committee chairman at the time also opposed the amendment.
"I'm sure there was a fiscal reason or some kind of efficiency reason against it," Hite said.
As evidence that Akin also has sought efficiency in military contracting, Hite pointed to the congressman's work with the Pentagon to secure a multiyear contract to purchase F/A-18 Super Hornets, which Akin asserted would save more than $600 million.