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MISSOURI SENATE • McCaskill prevails for a second term

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Updated 10:40 p.m. : Sen. Claire McCaskill won a clear victory in her bid for a second term Tuesday night.

With about one-third of the Missouri's precincts reporting, Rep. Todd Akin conceded the race not long after 9 p.m., acknowledging that McCaskill had opened up sizable margins in often Republican-leaning parts of the state, and it would be impossible for him to catch up.

It was a win that few predicted just a few months ago, until Akin made that now-infamous comments about “legitimate rape” that turned the election on its head. But in recent weeks, polls had showed the race tightening as Akin shored up support among social conservatives across Missouri.

They were not enough.

McCaskill racked up big vote counts in population centers like Greene County (Springfield) and Buchanan County (St. Joseph) that often tilt Republican in elections that the GOP candidate wins. And the race was called even without many votes counted from St. Louis, St. Louis County or Kansas City, which are typically key to Democratic victories in the state.

In her victory speech, McCaskill specifically mentioned those margins, as a way of remembering her mother, a one-time Columbia politician who died last week.

“Mom: This one's for you," McCaskill said. “I think we finally won rural Missouri."

In his concession speech, Akin sounded many of the same polite-but-defiant notes that framed his campaign, and urged his supporters to keep working to further their faith.

“We believe that life liberty and the pursuit of happiness comes from almighty God, not an almighty government,” he said.

The scene at McCaskill's election watch party at the Chase Park Plaza in St. Louis grew jubilant as it became clear to her supporters that their candidate would prevail. Several pointed to Akin's comments as an obvious turning point in the race, and said that's when it became clear to many Missourians that McCaskill was the better choice.

“I personally believe that Todd Akin opened the door for Missouri to keep the seat with Claire McCaskill,” said Alvin Hulse, a financial planner from Clayton. “I'm really happy she prevailed. It's great that even though the state of Missouri won't go for Obama, women's issues prevailed, and that a Democrat won.”

Indeed, from the start, Akin and other Republicans tried to tie McCaskill to Obama. She was a a key early supporter of the President, who remains unpopular in Missouri despite his victory tonight. It appears that strategy didn't work. McCaskill was getting about 10 percentage points more in her race than the President was in his against Mitt Romney in Missouri.

Still, Akin supporters had their differences with national politicians, too. Several people at his election night party at the Doubletree Hotel in Chesterfield said they were frustrated that national Republican groups pulled out of the race and urged Akin to drop out after his rape comments.

Mary Simon, a full-time mother from Florissant, flat-out blamed her party for the loss.

“Thanks to the non-support that we got from Missouri Republicans," Simon said. “Honestly, I think it was their fault. I don't think people were voting for McCaskill, they were voting against Akin – or didn't vote at all in protest.”

 

Jesse Bogan and Georgina Gustin of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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Updated 10:10 p.m. :  A jubilant Sen. Claire McCaskill bounded on to the stage at the Chase Park Plaza minutes ago to thank her supporters for helping her prevail.

About 40 minutes after the major TV networks called the race in her favor, and shortly after Rep. Todd Akin gave his concession speech, McCaskill pointed out that - not so long ago - she was given long odds to win a second term.

"They all said it's over. It's done. (Missouri's) just too red," she said. "You know what happened? You proved them wrong."

McCaskill also noted that the race was called even before returns were counted in Democratic strongholds in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas. Returns showed her beating Akin in places like Greene County (Springfield) and Buchanan County (St. Joseph) where Democrats typically struggle in statewide races.

"We finally won rural Missouri," she said.

And it was enough to carry the whole state.

 

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Updated 9:55 p.m. : Todd Akin may have just conceded the race for Senate, but he wasn't conceding any ideas.

After calling Sen. Claire McCaskill to congratulate her, Akin took to the podium at the Doubletree Hotel in Chesterfield to thank his supporters, and to give a clear call to keep up the issues he carried.

He echoed many of the themes of his campaign, and his personal faith. And just as they were often intertwined in his campaign they were intertwined in the speech he gave to end it.

“We believe that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness come from an almighty God, not an almighty government,” he said.

McCaskill is due to address her supporters at the Chase Park Plaza in St. Louis shortly.

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Updated 9:35 p.m. : Rep. Todd Akin is taking the podium to concede his race with Sen. Claire McCaskill, reports our Jesse Bogan.

TV networks called the race for McCaskill a short time ago, pointing to returns that show her up handily with roughly one-third of precincts reporting and relatively few votes counted from Democratic strongholds in Missouri's urban areas.

Campaign spokesman Rick Tyler said Akin called McCaskill to concede and will be taking the podium momentarily. His supporters at the Doubletree Hotel in Chesterfield were crestfallen.

"Depressing," said Betty Wendland, a retired human resources manager from St. Charles. "I don't want to see McCaskill in the Senate six more years. More of the same, depressing stuff. More of the the Obama stuff."

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Updated 9:18 p.m. : A big cheer just went up at Sen. Claire McCaskill's watch party in St. Louis. CNN, NBC and CBS News are calling Sen. her the winner in Missouri's Senate race.

Only about one-fifth of precincts are reporting, but McCaskill has opened up sizeable leads in several key population centers that Republicans tend to win when they carry the state, including Clay County (in suburban Kansas City), Greene County (Springfield) and Buchanan County (St. Joseph).

Without strong performances there, and with most of the vote still uncounted in Democratic strongholds of St. Louis, St. Louis County and Kansas City, it appears hard for Akin to cobble together enough votes to carry the state.

Her supporters were thrilled with the news.

"I think it's because she actually stands for the average person here," said Jennifer Kubizewski, of St. Louis. "Obviously she didn't say something stupid that offended a lot of people. That didn't hurt her."

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Updated 8:45 p.m. : All over but the waiting for Akin, McCaskill supporters

At this point, there's not much to do but wait.

So the crowds at both watch parties are mingling, and chewing over what little results have trickled in so far.

Sitting on some steps inside the Khorassan Ballroom in St. Louis, McCaskill supporters Jamie Reed, of St. Louis, and Natashia Pickens, said the early results showing Akin was ahead didn't worry them at all.

"We're fired up and ready to go," Reed told our reporter Georgina Gustin. "We expect that she's going to lose some of the small towns to Akin."

Pickens added:  "We expect her to win."

Reed said that Akin's comments in August about "legitimate rape" were a turning point for McCaskill, who was an underdog at the time.

"The words, those words," she said.  "When he dug in and stood by those, I think he lost people."

But out in Chesterfield at the Akin party, those same comments are a sign – to some – that Akin is a man worth supporting.

Kelly Burrell, 33, a single mother from Wildwood, helped form Missouri Women Standing with Todd Akin in recent months because, she told reporter Jesse Bogan, “the liberal media was not portraying him accurately.” The organization has about 30 core members.

“I am really excited and hopeful,” she said of the closing of the campaign. Regarding the rape comment, Burrell, who home schools her children and wants to be a prison chaplain, said: “He asked for forgiveness and it's granted. I make mistakes on a daily basis.”

Missouri voters, however, may have been less forgiving.

With the constant caveat that it's early yet, McCaskill has widened her lead with strong returns in collar counties around Kansas City, and absentee ballots in St. Louis City and County. With 264,000 votes counted, McCaskill was up 54 percent to 40 percent.

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Updated 8:00 p.m. : At the parties, Akin backers confident, McCaskill's anxious

With the polls now closed in Missouri, the parties are opening up.

Supporters of Rep. Todd Akin, gathering at the Doubletree Hotel in Chesterfield, tell our Jesse Bogan that they're confident their candidate will pull off the comeback.

“Hands down he's going to win because this is a pro-life world,” said Jane Petry, a self-described “Tea Party chick” from Sunset Hills. “Pro-life is looming large, which is why McCaskill will lose.”

Petry believes Akin will win despite the “legitimate rape” comment that wracked his campaign and turned his own party against him.

“He said something very thoughtful and intelligent that was misunderstood because he is for women,” she said. “We will never give money to the Republican Party after how they treated him.”

Meanwhile, the air was a bit anxious at Sen. Claire McCaskill's watch party in the Chase Park Plaza's Khorassan Ballroom, according to our reporter Georgina Gustin.

“Nervous as all get-out,” said Lil Lau of St. Louis, as she sipped a drink. “The numbers are all over the place. I definitely want Claire to win, and I definitely want Obama to win.”

For the moment anyway, McCaskill supporters can take comfort in the early returns, which show McCaskill pulling into the lead with about 26,000 votes cast. Most of her margin is coming from leads in Buchanan and Clay Counties, in western Missouri. For comparison, Sen. Roy Blunt won both counties 54-40 (equal to his statewide margin) against Robin Carnahan in 2010.

No St. Louis-area votes are being reported yet.

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Updated 7:20 p.m. : Akin opens up early - very early - lead

Polls are now closed in Missouri, with results just beginning to trickle in from a few precincts. A CNN exit poll has U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill up by 7 percentage points, though exit polls are not always reliable.

In the polls that actually count, Rep. Todd Akin has opened up a lead in the three outstate counties that have precincts reporting. That's no surprise; he'll need to win big there to prevail over McCaskill's expected advantages in more-populated parts of the state like metro St. Louis.

For what it's worth, McCaskill is considerably out-polling President Obama in the early Missouri returns, a sign that she might be able to withstand Obama's low popularity in the state.

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6:30 p.m.: High-profile race nears its conclusion

With polls soon closing here in Missouri, results of one of the key races for control of the U.S. Senate are about to unfold.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill is facing a tough challenge from U.S. Rep. Todd Akin for the seat she won in a tight race in 2006. Polls in the race have shown McCaskill leading, but Akin gaining ground as Election Day neared.

The race is one of a handful that will likely determine if Democrats keep their majority in the Senate next year, and has attracted significant national attention and money. McCaskill, a Democrat who lives in Kirkwood, has campaigned as a pragmatic moderate while Akin, a Republican who lives in Wildwood, has said his conservative values are more in line with Missourians.

McCaskill had been considered the underdog until late August, when Akin made his now-infamous comments in a local TV interview about women not getting pregnant via "legitimate rape."

Akin later apologized, but the episode changed the race overnight.

McCaskill surged to a big lead in polls, particularly with women voters. Many national and state-level Republicans urged Akin to drop out, but he refused — a move that some argue has demonstrated his independence. Akin's numbers have gradually recovered, though he still trails in most polls.

In recent days, both have focused on revving up their respective base, with Akin stumping rural and religious voters and McCaskill campaigning on college campuses and in union halls. To prevail, McCaskill will likely have to follow the same playbook as most statewide Democrats in Missouri — running up big tallies in St. Louis, St. Louis County and Jackson County while staying competitive elsewhere. Akin will need to fare well in his traditional stomping grounds of western St. Louis County and St. Charles County, while racking up big totals in rural districts

Libertarian Jonathan Dine is also on the ballot, and it's worth noting that minor-party candidates won more votes in 2006 than the margin by which McCaskill beat Jim Talent. So he could play the spoiler role.

We'll be keeping a close eye on the results as they come in, and have reporters stationed at both campaign's Election Night parties — Akin's at the Doubletree Hotel in Chesterfield, McCaskill's at the Chase Park Plaza in St. Louis — so stay with www.stltoday.com for the latest all night long.

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