By DAVID A. LIEBAssociated Press
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - The Missouri Farm Bureau provided a boost for Senate candidate Todd Akin on Tuesday by reaffirming its endorsement of the Republican congressman despite his remarks about women's bodies being able to avert pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape."
The Farm Bureau's support is important for Akin because its membership spans every county in the state. Akin could have lost access to that rural network had the Farm Bureau rescinded its endorsement and taken a neutral stance in the Missouri Senate race.
The organization's political action committees had voted by an overwhelming 99 percent to support Akin over Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill on Aug. 10. But in an unprecedented move for the Farm Bureau, it decided to reconsider that endorsement after Akin's remarks about rape aired Aug. 19 on a St. Louis television station.
Akin has apologized repeatedly since then and has rejected numerous calls by top Republicans - including GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney - to drop out of the Senate race so that the state Republican committee can pick a replacement candidate.
The Farm Bureau held a series of conference calls over the past week to poll its political action committee members about Akin. The organization requires at least a two-thirds vote to make an endorsement. The Farm Bureau did not disclose the exact percentage of support Akin won in the new vote, but it said the results were similar.
"During the conference calls, some of our members brought up the statement made by Congressman Akin last month; however, they accepted his apology and reaffirmed this election is still about issues such as moving our country in a better direction, getting the federal deficit under control, eliminating needless government regulations and creating more jobs," Blake Hurst, president of Missouri Farm Bureau, said in a written statement.
An Akin spokesman said the six-term congressman from suburban St. Louis was "very encouraged" and "very appreciative" that the Farm Bureau reaffirmed its support. The Farm Bureau president called Akin on Tuesday to personally share the news.
"That's going to be an incredible help and very important because they have a lot of networks put in place to assist us in getting to know people and letting the congressman speak to agricultural leaders in every corner" of the state, Akin spokesman Ryan Hite said.
The Missouri Farm Bureau's endorsement also can result in financial contributions to Akin, though nowhere near enough to replace the millions of dollars of advertising that National Republican Senatorial Committee and the conservative Crossroads group had planned to air in Missouri. Both entities vowed to pull their ads because of Akin's rape remarks.
Akin has instead turned to soliciting small-dollar donations over the Internet.
Since it began making U.S. Senate endorsements in 1982, the Missouri Farm Bureau has always backed the Republican candidate.
When speaking before the organization's political committees last month, McCaskill told the farmers that she didn't expect to get their endorsement because of her political affiliation. But she told them that she planned to win the election even without their help and would nonetheless represent their interests in Washington.
"As a daughter of rural Missouri, Claire has been a strong, independent voice for Missouri's farmers and agricultural communities," McCaskill spokesman Erik Dorey said Wednesday in response to the Farm Bureau's renewed endorsement of Akin.
McCaskill has highlighted her support for the federal farm bill, which includes crop insurance provisions. Akin has historically opposed the farm bill, but he told the Farm Bureau his concerns rest primarily with expansive food stamp spending that is included in the legislation.
Akin drew applause from Farm Bureau members last month when he said he would like to eliminate the federal estate tax, which can hit farms as they are passed from generation to generation. McCaskill said she wants to exempt at least the first $5 million of an estate's value from the tax and does not want to raise the current tax rate.
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