JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill has defeated GOP challenger Todd Akin to hold on to a Missouri Senate seat that Republicans once considered ripe for their taking.
McCaskill's victory Tuesday caps an unusual campaign that began with McCaskill declaring herself the underdog in a state that increasingly leaned Republican. But Akin damaged his chances shortly afterwinning the August primary, when he said in a TV interview that women's bodies have ways of avoiding pregnancy in what he called ``legitimate rape.''
Akin apologized. But he refused calls from top Republicans to quit, and his campaign never fully recovered financially. McCaskill highlighted Akin's remark in TV ads that portrayed him as an extremist.
McCaskill is the first Democratic senator to win re-election in Missouri since Thomas Eagleton in 1980.
Voters' views of Tuesday's elections, according to a preliminary exit poll conducted in Missouri for The Associated Press:
`LEGTIMATE RAPE' COMMENT ON VOTERS' MINDS
There's no doubt about it: Republican Todd Akin's remark that women's bodies have a way of preventing pregnancy after ``legitimate rape'' were being factored in by Missouri voters. A solid majority of voters said that, at the very least, they gave the comment some consideration in the voting booth. Women were slightly more likely to say that Akin's remark on rape and abortion in an August television interview was important to their decision.
WOMEN BACKING McCASKILL
Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill isn't just carrying the female vote but faring even better than she did with women in 2006. McCaskill's comfortable edge among women was propelled by women 18-44 who overwhelmingly lined up behind the first-term incumbent, as did a significant number of middle-aged women who made up most female voters. Akin offset some of these losses by holding his ground among women 65 and older and white women overall. Black women, however, backed McCaskill in a landslide.
AKIN FARES BETTER AMONG MEN...
Aside from being more likely to look past Akin's comment, men backed Akin in stronger numbers than women and especially those who are older. But the embattled Republican was still in a dogfight with McCaskill for male voters overall.
VOTERS SPLIT ON ABORTION
The ``legitimate rape'' comment put a spotlight on abortion in Missouri, and turnout among pro-choice voters and abortion opponents was nec-in-neck. Akin had as convincing and edge among abortion opponents as McCaskill did among those who felt that abortion should be legal in most or all cases. Those most unequivocal on the issue _ that it should be legal in all instances, or prohibited no matter the circumstance _ made up the smallest numbers.
STANDING BY THEIR CANDIDATE
If McCaskill or Democrats were counting on an anti-Akin vote because of his comments, that's not what the numbers suggest. The vast majority described their vote as driven by liking their candidate and not a distaste for the other choice on the ballot. And even among the small slice of voters whose ballot amounted to keeping the other candidate out, that group was practically split in their disapproval of both McCaskill and Akin.
ECONOMY BIGGEST ISSUE FACING COUNTRY
Beyond Missouri politics, the economy was weighing most on the minds of voters by far. Health care and the deficit was a distant second when it came to the most pressing issues facing the country. Unemployment in Missouri is just under 7 percent and below the national average. Few gave the economy good or even adequate marks: most said it was sputtering, if not altogether in poor shape.
The preliminary exit poll of 2,050 Missouri voters was conducted for AP by Edison Research in a random sample of 35 precincts statewide. Results were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points; it is higher for subgroups.
Exit Polls: http://surveys.ap.org/exitpolls