UPDATE: Akin's campaign has responded to McCaskill's allegation about
differences between male and female pay, saying that in the most
recent quarter, Akin's female staffers actually averaged higher
salaries than male staffers. McCaskill's campaign has said their
allegation of underpaid female staffers was based on an average of Akin's 12 years in Congress.
CLAYTON • The two contenders in Missouri's U.S. Senate race hammered each other on personal financial issues in their second debate Thursday, with Sen. Claire McCaskill accusing Rep. Todd Akin of paying his female staffers less than the male ones, and Akin accusing McCaskill of profiting from people's poverty.
The personal exchange, which drew audible gasps from the audience at Clayton High School, came at the end of a debate that was, until then, largely about straightforward policy issues.
Unmentioned during the one-hour debate was any reference to Akin's controversial comments in August on "legitimate rape" and pregnancy.
McCaskill, the Democrat, used her closing statement in the debate to reiterate her support for federal legislation requiring equal pay for women. Akin, the Republican, has opposed such mandates, saying they are an overreach of government.
"He supports the boss being able to decide whether or not you get paid less just because you're a woman," said McCaskill, adding, "he is a boss who does that."
She went on to allege that Akin pays the female members of his staff in Washington 23 percent less than he pays his male staff members.
McCaskill's campaign said the allegation was supported by publicly available information about Akin's congressional office. Akin's spokesman later brushed off questions seeking a response.
Akin used his own closing minutes to hit McCaskill again on what has been a central allegation of his campaign: that the senator profited from federal money that went into her husband's low-income housing business.
"She has gotten rich (in) a business that takes advantage of other people being in poverty," said Akin. McCaskill later dismissed the jab as "a cheap shot."
The most surprising part of the debate was what wasn't said. The Senate race has been a national showcase since late August, when Akin suggested during a St. Louis television interview that victims of "legitimate rape" usually can't get pregnant.
The comment has figured prominently in McCaskill's campaign but didn't come up in the debate.
Akin spokesman Rick Tyler said after the debate that the issue didn't come up because "that happened weeks and weeks ago. … I think the Missouri voters got over it."
McCaskill disagreed. When asked after the debate if the issue had "played out," she responded: "It will never play out to women."
Akin's theme for the night was to tie McCaskill to President Barack Obama, calling her Obama's 'strong right hand," which has been a theme of his campaign from the beginning. He said the nation needs a hopeful future, and "Claire McCaskill and Barack Obama have not given us that future."
McCaskill emphasized repeatedly the claim that she's a moderate up against an extremist. She said solving the nation's budgetary and other problems will require setting aside extreme ideology. "That's the hope," she said. "The hope is not on the far ends. The hope is in the middle."
On issues, both candidates stayed in familiar territory.
Akin focused on slow job growth and deficit spending, and chided McCaskill for supporting Obama policies which he said were responsible for both. "We have radical deficit spending. We have a federal government out of control," he said. "… Senator McCaskill seems to think it's a crisis if you don't have everything done by the federal government."
McCaskill turned that anti-big-government mantra to a criticism, reminding viewers that Akin favors nixing federal involvement in student loans and school lunches, and that he supports privatizing Medicare.
"I want our government to reflect our values … and I think Congressman Akin's view is very narrow and leaves a lot of people out," she said.
Akin's "legitimate rape" comment caused a national uproar and prompted leading Republicans to disavow Akin, who nonetheless stayed in the race. Some of those supporters have since returned.
Newly filed campaign disclosure records show Akin has raised $1.6 million during the most recent reporting period — a fraction of the $5.8 million raised by McCaskill. Both campaigns reported widespread donations from around the country in the wake of the scandal.