Kevin McDermott, political reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
As we broadcast from St. Louis, we turn to one of this election cycle’s most closely watched U.S. Senate races. Republican Rep. Todd Akin is challenging Missouri’s Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill in one of a handful of contests nationwide that could potentially help Republicans regain control of the Senate. Akin’s campaign has been mired in controversy since his infamous claims in August that women rarely become pregnant from what he termed "legitimate rape." A recent report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has drawn new attention to Akin’s views on abortion, revealing that he was arrested at least three times during anti-abortion protests in the 1980s. We’re joined by St. Louis Post-Dispatch political reporter Kevin McDermott. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we broadcast from St. Louis, Missouri, continuing our 100-city tour itinerant now. We can’t go home because our studios are blacked out; there’s no electricity at Democracy Now! Tonight we’ll be in Kansas City speaking. Tomorrow night, on Friday night, we’ll be in Houston.
But we turn now to one of this election cycle’s most closely watched Senate races in the country. It’s right here. It’s between Republican Congressmember Todd Akin, challenging Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill in Missouri. It’s seen as one of a handful of races nationwide that could potentially help Republicans regain control of the Senate.
Todd Akin’s campaign has been mired in controversy since his infamous claims in August that women rarely become pregnant from what he termed "legitimate rape." Responding to a question about possible allowances for abortion, Akin claimed, quote, "If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." The remark sparked a nationwide outcry and led to calls from Mitt Romney and other top Republicans for Akin to drop out of the race. Todd Akin has drawn further ire for claiming his opponent, Claire McCaskill, was more, quote, "ladylike" in the previous election and for comparing her legislative actions to a dog responding to a fetch command.
According to OpenSecrets.org, Claire McCaskill has outraised Todd Akin by more than $14 million, but polls still show a competitive race.
Well, a recent report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has drawn new attention to Todd Akin’s views on abortion. The paper reveals Akin was arrested at least three times during anti-abortion protests in the '80s. To talk more about Todd Akin and the Missouri Senate race, we're joined by the report’s author, St. Louis Post-Dispatch political reporter Kevin McDermott.
Kevin, welcome to Democracy Now!
KEVIN McDERMOTT: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Give us the lay of the land in this race that’s being watched all over the country.
KEVIN McDERMOTT: Well, the lay of the land has been changing just about weekly since August. The thing to remember about Todd Akin is that he has always been an outsider, even within his own party, even before this controversy started. So, for a lot of us, this is basically a magnification of a career that we’ve seen for years. He’s always been a very grassroots conservative. The party has never really been in his corner. And, you know, you saw this playing out in dramatic fashion after his remark.
AMY GOODMAN: Once again, tell us the context of the remark. You know, he was interviewed by a local reporter.
KEVIN McDERMOTT: He was interviewed by a local reporter. It was a local television station. He was asked about the—his stance that they’re should not be a rape exception to anti-abortion laws. He’s very anti-abortion. And when the interviewer pressed him, he essentially said, "Well, my understanding from doctors is that rape victims rarely become pregnant; the female body has ways of shutting that whole thing down." This has no basis in medical fact whatsoever, but it’s long been a claim by the far-right anti-abortion movement because it solves a problem that they have, the issue of what to do about rape victims. I’m not saying that Todd Akin doesn’t believe it; I think it’s probably likely that he did. He came out afterward, obviously, and apologized for the comment and retracted it, but by that point the whole world was talking about it.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about what you have just revealed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about his arrest record.
KEVIN McDERMOTT: Yeah, this is a—this is a strange story, because if you talk to Akin’s supporters, not only don’t they think it’s a problem, I think they’re actually proud of him. This is the kind of arrest that folks in his corner view the way that others might view a civil rights arrest. Todd Akin, sometime back this year, let slip during a speech that he had been arrested once—he didn’t mention multiple times; he mentioned once—during an anti-abortion rally. We got curious about that, looked into it and discovered, actually in our own archives, that he had been arrested at least three times in the 1980s. He was going under a—he was using a different name; he was using his first name rather than his middle name. His actual name is William Todd Akin. And that’s why it slipped through the filter the first time.
AMY GOODMAN: You mean the first few times it said "William Akin," not "Todd Akin."
KEVIN McDERMOTT: Correct, correct, right. And this is why it wasn’t something that came to our attention. This was before he was known publicly. This was before he was in office. And again, this wasn’t the kind of arrest that necessarily was a big deal, but—
AMY GOODMAN: But he didn’t talk about it.
KEVIN McDERMOTT: He didn’t talk about that.
AMY GOODMAN: He’s always copped to one.
KEVIN McDERMOTT: He copped to one, and then he wouldn’t discuss details of the one. So, he’s—and this sort of gets in a bigger issue. He’s always been walking this line between trying to appeal to his supporters, who are very conservative, and at the same time trying to at least not be completely rejected by the middle out there, who maybe wouldn’t view that kind of arrest as favorably as some of his conservative supporters do.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, describe the circumstances of these arrests, what he was doing in the ’80s.
KEVIN McDERMOTT: Yeah, these stories—and this was a big thing in St. Louis in the ’80s. There was a—it was happening all over the country. People were getting arrested at these mass protests. And they really did view it as sort of a civil rights issue. You were getting—and in all these cases, I should point out that Todd Akin was arrested with multiple others. But there were some details. In one of the stories, he literally had to be carried by police out of the—out of a hallway where he was protesting, because he just refused to move. It was almost a Martin Luther King, you know, passive resistance kind of thing. These were attempts to shut down business at abortion clinics in the city.
AMY GOODMAN: And he was taken out—what—in one, you describe police carried Akin into an elevator.
KEVIN McDERMOTT: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: Has he responded to all of this?
KEVIN McDERMOTT: He has—they have not. We’ve asked them multiple times to elaborate on some of this, and they’re just not talking about it.
AMY GOODMAN: The difference between civil disobedience protests, peaceful protests, and these, what was happening at these women’s health clinics at the time? We’re talking about the blockading of clinics.
KEVIN McDERMOTT: You know, I’m going to be careful here, because I wasn’t there, and we don’t have film that we’re looking at. If you talk to Akin and his supporters, they will tell you that this was civil disobedience, that these were peaceful. And, in fact, none of these things resulted, ultimately, in any kind of injury or violence that we know of. So these—you know, it’s kind of in the eye of the beholder as to whether these were something to be proud of or not.
AMY GOODMAN: How has Todd Akin recovered from the—his comments about women who are, quote, "legitimately raped"? This is a remarkable story, I think. And I think people outside of Missouri will be very surprised to hear that—is it true Claire McCaskill actually—he is gaining, Todd Akin, once again. Now, the top leadership wanted him out—I mean, everyone from Mitt Romney to his colleague Paul Ryan, who had co-sponsored anti-choice legislation with him, to Karl Rove—pulled his money out and was famously quoted by Sheelah Kolhatkar in Bloomberg Businessweek, got into a super PAC meeting, Karl Rove saying, "If Todd Akin is found murdered, don’t go looking for me," because they were concerned that if Todd Akin stayed in the race, he would lose the Senate for Republicans.
KEVIN McDERMOTT: Mm-hmm, yeah, and the polls do indicate some tightening in the race. We had a poll recently that showed just a two-point spread in McCaskill’s favor, which is, as you say, sort of amazing, given that after the comment she was up by close to 10 points in most polls overnight, after having been trailing. The way that he’s gotten to this? He’s gone back to his base. I mean, his base are the—what we call "outstate" in Missouri, which is, you know, some—in that land between St. Louis and Kansas City where you have a lot of small rural areas, a lot of conservative areas. This has always been Todd Akin’s bread and butter. These are people who, you know, believe in very limited government, believe in very conservative ideas about social policy. And even if they don’t necessarily agree with the specific comment that he made, the sentiment behind it, the really unaltered, unaltering opposition to abortion, is something that a lot of conservatives in Missouri agree with. He hasn’t been hitting that particular theme that hard. He doesn’t have to. Everybody knows where he is on this. Instead, he’s been talking more broadly about his opposition to big government. And, you know, that’s a chord that gets some response here.
AMY GOODMAN: Interesting in light of what’s happening on the East Coast with the superstorm and the tremendous reliance on efficient, organized, really big government—
KEVIN McDERMOTT: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —to deal with this.
KEVIN McDERMOTT: And you can probably expect Claire McCaskill to be mentioning that, as well. She’s been—she’s been coming back, essentially saying, you know, he’s against Social Security, he’s against student loans, and kind of taking the other side of that big argument of should government—
AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly. We only have three minutes.
KEVIN McDERMOTT: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: And I want to get through a lot. In August, BuzzFeed uncovered a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article from 2000 reporting Akin had been invited to speak at a rally of the 1st Missouri Volunteers militia in '95. He apparently didn't attend, instead sending a laudatory letter to be read to the gathering. The letter read, in part, "The local militia can bring a positive influence to our community. Your patriotism and concern for our state and nation is to be commended."
KEVIN McDERMOTT: And the rest of that quote said something to the effect of: however, if you’re letting skinheads in here, that’s going to be a problem. I thought that story was a little overblown, frankly. And this is what happens in this case. You get magnification of everything a candidate says.
AMY GOODMAN: The fundraising gap. Claire McCaskill has raised more than $14 million more, according to OpenSecrets.org. And a group that calls itself the Now or Never Political Action Committee announced on Wednesday it will spend $800,000 on TV ads to back Todd Akin for the U.S. Senate here in Missouri.
KEVIN McDERMOTT: He is getting some support, and he is getting some money from conservative groups. He’s been massively outspent by Claire McCaskill; there’s no question about that. But what we originally thought after the comment was that he would just be completely cut off, that he would—that he would be bled dry. And it’s not—it’s not actually worked out that way. He’s gotten some support, not official support from the party, but support from conservatives.
AMY GOODMAN: Reports of robo-calls for Akin?
KEVIN McDERMOTT: We’re not getting much of that. It’s really not his style, frankly.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Thank you for joining us, Kevin McDermott, and for your reporting in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
As we wrap up today’s broadcast and we continue to travel across this country on our 100-city Election 2012 tour, continuing today, we’ll be in Kansas City, Missouri, where I’ll be speaking Thursday night at IBEW Local 124 at 7:00 p.m.; and then Houston, Texas, at the Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church at 7:00 p.m. on Friday; on Monday, in New York City, if in fact electricity is on, at the Barnes & Noble in Tribeca at 97 Warren. I’ll be there at 6:00 p.m., as well. And then we’re moving on next week, staying in New York. Of course, we’ll be doing a national live broadcast Tuesday night, starting at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time on the elections and the election results, and we’ll see particularly what happens—how those in the wake of the superstorm, if in fact they’re even able to vote. Then we’ll be moving on to Chicago on Thursday night and to San Francisco. And on Sunday, in Princeton, New Jersey, I’ll be speaking at the Nassau Presbyterian Church. The event will begin at 1:30 in the afternoon. I’ll be speaking along with Professor Noam Chomsky and Juan Cole from the University of Michigan. That’s next Sunday, November 11th.
You can go to our website at democracynow.org for storm coverage. My remarkable team on the ground in New York, a huge shout out to the work that you are doing there around the clock, even without that home base of Democracy Now! to come back to, and many of you even in your homes not having electricity.
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