LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. (AP) — Shunned by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin turned Tuesday to former presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich to help draw money and attention to his quest to oust Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
Gingrich appeared with Akin at a pair of Kansas City area fundraisers as part of what Akin's campaign hopes will be a $1 million advertising push in the final week of the campaign. So far, McCaskill has significantly outspent Akin on TV ads that have cast the suburban St. Louis congressman as extreme — even "scary" — because of his conservative views and a remark about "legitimate rape."
Gingrich acknowledged that "the gap between Todd Akin and Sen. McCaskill on issues ... is enormous." But he predicted that voters ultimately would side with Akin's limited-government philosophy and forgive him for his much-criticized remark that women's bodies have ways of avoiding pregnancy in what Akin called "legitimate rape."
"Todd Akin has had a 12-year career of being a solid conservative. Claire McCaskill has had a six-year career of representing Barack Obama's liberalism," Gingrich, a former House speaker, said during a news conference with Akin. "This state deserves to have a senator from Missouri, not a senator from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.," he said in reference to the address of the White House.
McCaskill, whose mother died Monday, had no campaign events scheduled but has continued to wage an aggressive TV advertising battle against Akin.
"Claire's always been an independent, Missouri-style moderate who puts our state's interests first," said McCaskill spokeswoman Caitlin Legacki, adding that her "record obviously stands in stark contrast to Todd Akin's extreme, special-interest agenda."
Missouri's Senate seat had long been considered one of several toss-ups nationwide as Republicans and Democrats battle for control of the chamber. But Romney and many deep-pocketed fundraising groups that aid Republicans abandoned Akin after his comments about pregnancy and rape aired Aug. 19 in a television interview.
Akin apologized and forged forward with a re-tooled campaign that relied more on an anti-establishment message and small-dollar donations. Gingrich was the first prominent Republican to headline a fundraiser for Akin after the rape remark, appearing at a St. Louis area event in September as it became clear that Akin would not drop out of the Senate race. Akin also has been aided by former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum and 2008 GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who has appeared in TV ads for Akin.
The Gingrich fundraisers Tuesday were not high-dollar affairs — tickets went for $50 a person for a "power lunch" and $40 each for an evening "dessert social" at a suburban golf club. Akin campaign adviser Rick Tyler said the events were part of a push to raise $200,000 in the final week, which would help finance a planned $1 million advertising campaign.
McCaskill's campaign declined to say how much she was spending on ads in the final week. But Tyler said Akin's $1 million goal would come close to matching McCaskill's ad spending.
McCaskill had about $2.1 million in her campaign account at the start of October, compared with about $550,000 for Akin. Finance reports analyzed Tuesday by The Associated Press show McCaskill has drawn more four-figure donations than Akin in the final days of their campaign. In a six-day period starting Oct. 18, McCaskill received more than $115,000 in donations of at least $1,000 each while Akin received about $82,000.
Both candidates got a majority of that money from out-of-state donors. McCaskill's contributors included Jeffrey Katzenberg, the CEO of moviemaker Dreamworks Animation SKG, who with his wife gave a total of $5,000. Akin's contributors included the Senate Conservatives Fund, the Conservative Strike Force and the Veterans Victory Fund, which gave $5,000 each.
Akin predicted Tuesday a swell of support from "a lot of people fired up" for his conservative cause would edge him to victory over McCaskill. In between fundraisers, Gingrich and Akin toured the underground facilities of Lee's Summit-based Bennett Packaging and posed in front of a massive banner of snow-capped mountains — with a cutout of a snowboarder dangling from the ceiling. It was an unusual setting, but not as unusual as the response Gingrich said he received from about 200 people at Akin's luncheon fundraiser.
"It is the first fundraiser I've ever gone to that spontaneously became a rally," Gingrich said. "When he tells you he has intensity among his supporters, I can personally vouch for it. I have seen it — it is astonishing how passionate and how dedicated they are."