JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill took aim Wednesday at Republican challenger Todd Akin with a new series of TV ads featuring rape survivors outraged by Akin's remark about "legitimate rape" and his opposition to emergency contraception.
The three separate ads feature individual testimonials from three women who said they were raped, including one who describes herself as a "pro-life" Republican and another self-described "pro-life mother" who calls herself a "woman of faith." The ads are among the most powerful yet by McCaskill, who is intent on reminding voters of Akin's remark about women's bodies having ways of avoiding pregnancy in "legitimate rape."
Akin's comment in mid-August drew widespread condemnation, including from GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and other top Republicans, who pressured him to drop out of the Senate race. Akin apologized repeatedly and instead forged ahead with his campaign, even as some deep-pocketed fundraising groups abandoned him. After a final drop-out deadline passed in late September and Akin regained support from some Republican leaders, McCaskill intensified the pressure on Akin with ads referencing his "legitimate rape" remark.
McCaskill's goal is to persuade voters that Akin didn't merely misspeak, but that his words revealed his extreme beliefs. Akin has countered by continuing to highlight his opposition to abortion while suggesting it is McCaskill who is out of line with most Missouri residents because of her support for President Barack Obama's marquee initiatives such as the 2009 stimulus act and 2010 health care law.
In her new ads, McCaskill links the "legitimate rape" remark to statements Akin made in a separate August interview in which he expressed support for a ban on emergency contraception.
"As far as I'm concerned, the morning-after pill is a form of abortion. I think we just shouldn't have abortion in this country," Akin said in the August interview on Kansas City radio station KCMO.
Two of the women in McCaskill's new ads suggest Akin wants to "criminalize emergency contraception."
One person, who describes herself as a Republican "pro-life mother" says: "I have never voted for Claire McCaskill, but because of Todd Akin, I will now."
Another declares that Akin's rape remark "showed his true colors" and adds: "As a woman of faith, I must forgive Todd Akin, but as a voter, it's not something I can forget."
Akin campaign adviser Rick Tyler claimed that McCaskill's ads were intended to redirect the campaign's focus from an Associated Press report on Tuesday that businesses affiliated with her husband, Joseph Shepard, had received $39 million in federal housing subsidies during McCaskill's first five years in office.
"This is simply a tactic to divert our attention away — and divert voters' attention away — from the fact she has been caught in a Washington insider game," Tyler said.
According to an online government database, firms in which Shepard has an ownership stake appear to have received about $39 million in federal housing subsidies between 2007 — when McCaskill took office — and the end of 2011. Shepard earned an income of between about $400,000 and $2.6 million from those businesses in the years in which they received government payments, according to McCaskill's federal financial disclosure reports.
But McCaskill's campaign said Tuesday that none of the federal housing money made it to the family's bank accounts and that the businesses' income came from other sources.
Akin said Wednesday that McCaskill should release the tax returns for herself and her husband for the years she has served in the Senate.
McCaskill and Shepard file separate tax returns. McCaskill previously released her 2011 tax return, which showed an adjusted gross income of $193,384 — primarily from her Senate salary and a state pension. But McCaskill has not released Shepard's tax return, noting he is not the candidate. McCaskill ranks among the wealthiest senators, thanks largely to Shepard's businesses.
McCaskill campaign spokesman Caitlin Legacki accused Akin of attacking McCaskill's family in "a desperate, baseless attempt to distract from his extreme record."
"Akin is the only candidate in this race who refuses to release his tax return," Legacki said.