By DAVID A. LIEB, Associated Press
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A conservative fundraising group backed embattled Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin with as much as $290,000 for his campaign Thursday. But Akin handed new fundraising fodder to his foes by suggesting that Sen. Claire McCaskill had behaved in a less "ladylike" manner than she has in the past.
Akin contrasted McCaskill's demeanor in their first debate last week with her approach six years ago.
"She was very aggressive in the debate, which was quite different than the way she was when she ran against Jim Talent" in 2006, Akin said during a campaign stop Thursday at the state capitol. At that time, he added, "she had a confidence and was very much more sort of ladylike and all."
Akin's comment came moments after the Senate Conservatives Fund announced it was endorsing him. It was the highest-profile financial commitment Akin has netted since his campaign lost millions of dollars of planned advertising by other national groups that aid Republicans. Those groups withdrew their support after Akin remarked last month that women's bodies have ways of averting pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape."
Akin has apologized repeatedly since then but defied demands from top Republicans — including presidential nominee Mitt Romney — to quit the race. He's hoping his campaign can gain momentum now that he has let pass Tuesday's final deadline to drop out of the race. But staying in the contest has left Romney, running mate Paul Ryan and the rest of the GOP hierarchy in an awkward position.
The "ladylike" comment complicated Akin's efforts and the broader contest for control of the Senate. Republicans need to gain four seats to win the majority, a task that seemed within reach a few months ago but has now grown uncertain, in part because of Akin's campaign.
At the Missouri Capitol on Thursday, Akin said he believes he will get the votes of Republicans and Romney supporters and defeat McCaskill, who has close ties to President Barack Obama. Akin said thinks McCaskill believes he can win, too. He cited as evidence McCaskill's demeanor in a Missouri Press Association debate Sept. 21, contrasting it with the way she debated then-Sen. Jim Talent in 2006.
"In the debate we had Friday, she came out swinging, and I think that's because she was threatened," Akin said.
McCaskill's campaign did not immediately comment about the remark, but others quickly denounced it. Washington Sen. Patty Murray, who is chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, called it "demeaning to women and offensive to all."
Emily's List, which backs Democratic candidates who support abortion rights, quickly incorporated the remark into an email fundraising plea to finance more TV ads against Akin.
"Ladylike?! This is a Senate race, not a beauty pageant, Todd," the group's new media director Emily Lockwood said in the email.
The Senate Conservatives Fund said it endorsed Akin because he is the Republican nominee, the race against McCaskill remains competitive and Missouri is important to Republican efforts to gain the four seats necessary to win control of the Senate. The organization said its members had pledged $290,000 toward Akin's campaign, and it hopes to get $100,000 to Akin by Sunday, which is the cutoff for the quarterly financial reporting period.
Akin said he was thankful and "very enthusiastic" about winning the group's support.
"I think it's logical_I am a conservative, they're conservatives, I think it's a common-sense type of thing," Akin said.
The fund has gained prominence in recent years with the aid of Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a favorite among tea party activists. Among other things, the Senate Conservatives Fund supports a ban on congressional spending earmarks, which use legislation to direct particular amounts of money to specific entities in a particular state or congressional district.
Akin has used earmarks in the past to direct funding to such things as highway projects and military armor, although he and Matt Hoskins, the executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, both have said Akin supports the group's ban on earmarks.
Akin said Thursday that he's against amendments that are slipped into bills at the last moment that direct money to specific projects, particularly if joint House and Senate conference committees add items that weren't in versions that originally passed the chambers. But he added: "Don't take the definition (of earmark) so broadly that the members of Congress don't have any input into the budget process."