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McCaskill, Akin Distance Themselves During First Debate

Chris Prewitt

Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill and Republican challenger Todd Akin sparred about budgets, Medicare and other big issues in their first face-to-face debate earlier today.

The two met for the hour-long, Missouri Press Association event in Columbia, Missouri. Libertarian candidate Jonathan Dine also participated. Off the bat, McCaskill painted Akin as being too extreme.

“This election is going to be quite a contrast for Missourians,” said McCaskill. “But not because we’re at opposite ends, Todd and Me. I’m in the middle. It’s just that he’s just so far on the fringe.”

Akin countered McCaskill is part of what's wrong with D.C., and that the race is about two different visions for the country.

“Are we going to go down the path of Greece, that constantly has a bigger government always taxing more and basically destroying their economy?” asked Akin. “Or are we going to go the path that America has always been on, a path where we allow freedom, where we allow the American dream to flourish?”

No time was spared before getting into Akin’s controversial comment several weeks ago, when he said women's bodies have ways of avoiding pregnancy during cases of legitimate rape. When asked to what extent his comments should matter and in what context, Akin said the election is more about reshaping Washington and its destructive policies.

“I’ve answered this question repeatedly, and I don’t believe this election overall is about talk,” said Akin. “It’s not about words. It’s about two different voting records that are exactly the opposite.”

McCaskill said the comments reflect a larger problem with Akin.

“I believe a rape victim should be allowed to have emergency contraception in order to avoid pregnancy. Todd Akin does not. I believe his view is extreme,” said McCaskill. “But there are other extreme views. He wants to abolish the minimum wage, the floor for the middle class in this country.”

The two proceeded to go back and forth about other issues, like student loans. McCaskill criticized Akin for wanting to get rid of them, as well as school lunch programs. Akin said it’s not that he’s against the programs, but he thinks they’re best left to the private sector.

Both accused each other of supporting policies that harm seniors.

The two were mostly in agreement, however, on the the final issue brought up during the debate: taking on the nation’s costly obesity epidemic. Both said government shouldn’t be telling people how to live and what to eat.

With six weeks left in the campaign season, most polls have McCaskill leading Akin.

Listen to the debate and on-the-scene analysis from KCUR's Up to Date here.