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McCaskill vs. Akin: The Senate Race That Isn’t

Of the handful of Democrats who opted to skip the party’s convention this week, no one’s absence was more conspicuous than Senator Claire McCaskill’s. The freshman Senator, who in 2008 threw her support behind Barack Obama even when the smart money was on Hillary Clinton, opted to campaign in Missouri, where the electorate is hostile to the Obama and deeply skeptical of her early affinity for him.

So while Cory Booker was delivering his Tuesday night philippic, McCaskill was at tiny Westminster College, looking weary as she affirmed her commitment to federally-backed student loans for the third time in two days. Last night, after two mighty brief appearances at convention watch parties in St. Louis, McCaskill viewed Obama’s speech in private, at her mom’s house.

But while McCaskill was obviously missing from Charlotte, her opponent, Rep. Todd Akin, was even more ghostlike in the very state he hopes to capture from her.

Since proclaiming, on August 19, that the female body has natural contraceptive powers in instances of “legitimate rape,” Akin has made but two public appearances: One awkwardly short press conference to reaffirm his Senate candidacy, and a parade appearance last Thursday in Bethany—a dusty collection of storefronts along the two-lane highway connecting Kansas City and Des Moines.

At first, the Bethany appearance seemed a sign that Akin’s campaign was back underway. But he hasn’t resurfaced since. He has been with Missouri mostly in spirit, his legend invoked by detractors but his person elusive. His remark that student loans are “a stage-three cancer of socialism,” for instance, is ever-present in McCaskill’s stump speech. Sandra Fluke uttered his name in a televised interview following her primetime convention appearance. Yesterday, the nuns of the Nuns on the Bus staged a protest at his Ballwin, Missouri office—but he didn’t seem to be there.

Akin enthusiasts, meanwhile, await his triumphant return. “He really is a conservative, cares about the family, cares about life, cares about traditional marriage, cares about keeping the debt low,” said regional Christian radio star Dick Bott, in a conversation with former Ohio Representative Bob McEwen broadcast on Wednesday. “He just is the person, people tell me, who’s the real deal.” That same day, Akin's realness was even briefly confirmed by a six-minute stint on Your World with Neil Cavuto.

A recent PPP poll showed McCaskill maintaining a mere one-point lead over the absent Akin. Perhaps, combined with the adulation of supporters like Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich, that news is what gave him the resolve to commit to what by his recent standards amounts to a heavy campaigning schedule for the next two days: a gathering this morning with the Columbia Pachyderm Club, and a rally on Saturday in Camdenton, Missouri, population 3,691.