CLAYTON, Mo. — Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill cast herself as a moderate willing to work with Republicans while GOP challenger Todd Akin repeatedly linked her to the policies of President Barack Obama as they highlighted their differences Thursday night in the final debate of the Missouri Senate race.

McCaskill, who is seeking a second term, asserted Akin has an "extreme record" on women's issues, education, Medicare and Social Security, among other things. It's "moderate versus extreme. I think there's a very big choice for Missourians to make," she said.

Akin, a congressman from suburban St. Louis, stressed that McCaskill was one of Obama's earliest supporters in his 2008 campaign and backed his health care and stimulus proposals, which he said have driven up the deficit. "She was his strong right hand," Akin said.

The hourlong debate before an audience in the Clayton High School auditorium in suburban St. Louis contained nary a mention of the reason why Missouri's Senate race was propelled into the national spotlight. In mid-August, Akin drew widespread condemnation for remarking in a TV interview that women's bodies have ways of avoiding pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape." He apologized and forged ahead with his campaign despite calls from top Republicans – including presidential candidate Mitt Romney – to drop out.

Asked after Thursday's debate why she didn't bring up Akin's rape remark, McCaskill told reporters that everyone already had heard about it and to mention it "would look maybe like piling on." Akin left immediately after the debate without talking to reporters.

The candidates remained largely cordial throughout the debate but closed with some personal accusations that were factually shaky.

Akin claimed McCaskill "transferred $39 million to her home business." That was a reference to an Associated Press article that found that businesses affiliated with McCaskill's husband, Joseph Shepard, received $39 million in federal housing subsidies during her first five years in office. McCaskill voted for some of the bills – and against others – that funded the departments that provide the subsidies. But the AP found no evidence that McCaskill directly steered any money to her husband's firms, and McCaskill's campaign has said none of that money made it into the family's personal bank accounts.

McCaskill closed the debate by asserting that female staff in Akin's congressional office made 23 percent less than male staff members. McCaskill's campaign released an analysis showing that Akin paid his male staffers an average of $15,872.12 per quarter and his female staffers an average of $12,872.12 per quarter over his 12 years in office. But during the most recent quarter, Akin's female staffers appeared to earn more on average than his male staffers, according to an online listing of salaries.

McCaskill also asserted that "Akin voted to raise his pay." But pay raises in Congress occur automatically, and many of the votes McCaskill referenced were procedural ones that ended debate on bills, thus preventing consideration of potential amendments attempting to reject automatic raises.

During their answers to questions from panelists and audience members, Akin and McCaskill repeatedly differed on the proper role of the federal government.

McCaskill, for example, criticized Akin's prior statements in support of abolishing the Education Department and his opposition to a 2010 law that gave the federal government – not banks – direct responsibility for issuing student loans.

"The federal government's involvement in education is important for our country," McCaskill said.

Akin countered: "Claire McCaskill seems to think this is a crisis if you don't have everything done by the federal government."

Akin said the federal school lunch program could be administered by states, quipping that the food probably wouldn't taste any different to students.

Asked later if there were any misconceptions the candidates wanted to clear up, McCaskill said it was wrong for Akin to imply she is not willing to stand up to Obama. She said she opposed some of his energy policies and had wanted him to quickly approve the Keystone XL pipeline to bring oil from Canada to the U.S.

"I don't even agree with my mother 98 percent of the time, much less the president of the United States," she said.

On a topic that hadn't previously received much attention in their race, McCaskill said she supports all forms of stem cell research. Akin said he opposes human embryonic stem cell research, because he believes life begins at conception.

Quarterly financial reports released earlier Thursday show Akin raised $1.6 million from mid-July through the end of September and had about $553,000 remaining in his account at the start of October. That significantly trailed McCaskill, who raised $5.5 million during the period and still had about $2.1 million left in her campaign account.

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  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was elected to the Senate in 1992. Before that, she served as the 38th mayor of San Francisco from 1978 to 1988 and was elected the first female president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Feinstein chairs both the Senate Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Subcommittee on Energy and Water. She is also a member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Rules and Administration. She was the first woman to serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Feinstein was the original Democratic <a href="http://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=792a048f-7e9c-9af9-7232-1ddd4a97cb2e" target="_hplink">co-sponsor</a> of the bill that extended the Patriot Act, saying in 2005, "I believe the Patriot Act is <a href="http://blog.thedemocraticdaily.com/?p=1458" target="_hplink">vital to the protection of the American people</a> and I question why the President is opposing a three-month extension while efforts are underway to reach a consensus on two problematic provisions." Feinstein is currently the lead sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman. "My own belief is that when two people love each other and enter the contract of marriage, the federal government should honor that," she said in a statement. "I <a href="http://blog.sfgate.com/nov05election/2011/02/24/dianne-feinstein-will-try-to-repeal-doma/" target="_hplink">opposed the Defense of Marriage Act</a> in 1996. It was the wrong law then; it is the wrong law now; and it should be repealed."

  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

    Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) assumed office in 2009, appointed by then-Gov. David Paterson (D) to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/24/nyregion/24choice.html" target="_hplink">replace Hillary Clinton</a>, who joined the Obama administration as Secretary of State. Before that, Gillibrand was twice elected to the House in a district in upstate New York. She has since served on the Senate Committees on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; Armed Services; Environment and Public Works and Foreign Relations. The pro-choice senator is a strong advocate for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rep-kirsten-gillibrand/making-congress-more-tran_b_703899.html" target="_hplink">government transparency</a> and well-known for championing the repeal of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rep-kirsten-gillibrand/the-right-time-to-repeal_b_310352.html" target="_hplink">Don't Ask, Don't Tell</a>. In late October, she announced that she would be introducing the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/2011/10/gillibrand-open-adoption-to-gays-lesbians" target="_hplink">Every Child Deserves a Family Act in the Senate</a>, a measure that would allow same-sex couples to become foster or adoptive parents. As part of her reelection campaign, Gilliband has launched <a href="http://www.offthesidelines.org/" target="_hplink">Off the Sidelines</a>, a project aimed at getting women more involved in their communities. "When women are part of the negotiation and are part of decision-making, the outcomes are just better," Gillibrand told The Huffington Post.

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar

    Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) became the first woman elected to the Senate from Minnesota when she won her campaign in 2006. She serves as chairwoman of the Senate Subcommittee on Competitiveness, Innovation and Export Promotion and is a member of the Committees on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; Commerce, Science and Transportation, as well as the Judiciary Committee. Prior to being elected to the Senate, Klobuchar was a partner at two law firms until 1998, when she was elected as the chief prosecutor in Hennepin County, Minnesota's largest. She served in that role from 1999-2007, during which she was named Attorney of the Year by the <em>Minnesota Lawyer</em>. In the Senate, Klobuchar is a strong supporter of <a href="http://www.plannedparenthoodadvocate.org/klobuchar/" target="_hplink">Planned Parenthood</a> and has opposed measures that would cut federal funding for the family planning organization. In 2007, <em>The Washington Post</em> called her "<a href="http://voices.washingtonpost.com/sleuth/2007/06/post_1.html" target="_hplink">a leading proponent</a> of efforts to combat climate change."

  • Sen. Claire McCaskill

    Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) was the first woman elected to the Senate from Missouri in 2006. From 1983-1988, she was a member of the Missouri House of Representatives. She is the chair of the Senate Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight as well as a member of the Senate Committees on Armed Services; Commerce, Science, and Transportation; Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Special Committee on Aging. McCaskill is an avid user of social media and is currently the second-most <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/19/sen-claire-mccaskill-twitter_n_1020783.html" target="_hplink">followed member</a> of Congress on Twitter. McCaskill has been one of Congress' top watchdogs on wartime contracts, calling for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/10/afghanistan-special-inspector-general-resigns-oversight_n_805761.html" target="_hplink">greater administration scrutiny</a> of taxpayer dollars being spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. She is currently <a href="http://thehill.com/news-by-subject/defense-homeland-security/188615-sen-mccaskill-crafting-legislation-to-crack-down-on-waste-in-wartime" target="_hplink">crafting legislation</a> that would reform wartime contracting, after a report came out showing that $60 billion in taxpayer dollars had been lost in Iraq and Afghanistan on private contractors. The senator is a strong supporter of women's rights to abortion access, and she criticized the GOP's attempts to defund Planned Parenthood in an interview with The Huffington Post. "One of the reasons I was proud to lock arms with the other women Democratic senators to stop what they were trying to do to Planned Parenthood is that it doesn't even make sense in terms of their agenda," she said. "If you want to prevent abortions, why in the world would you cut off giving birth control to young women? It's just nonsensical to think we're going to reduce abortions by making it so that young college women can't access Planned Parenthood services for gynecological exams and birth control services."

  • Sen. Debbie Stabenow

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  • Rep. Tammy Baldwin

    Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) was elected to Congress in 1998, making her the first woman in the Wisconsin delegation. If elected to the Senate in the open seat being vacated by Sen. Herb Kohl (D), she would be the first woman in the state to serve in the upper chamber. Baldwin is a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and a strong supporter of the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christine-bork/domestic-violence_b_1024496.html" target="_hplink">Violence Against Women Act</a>. In a 2011 <em>National Journal</em> <a href="http://www.nationaljournal.com/congress/most-liberal-members-of-congress-20110226" target="_hplink">survey</a>, she tied for first place in a ranking of most liberal members of the House. In her Senate campaign announcement, she promised to focus on the "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/06/tammy-baldwin-senate-wisconsin_n_950163.html" target="_hplink">fight to grow our economy</a>, protect seniors, force Wall Street to clean up its act, and bring our troops home from Afghanistan." She told The Huffington Post that the 2012 elections will be a "women's battle." "Women in families oftentimes are making the family budgetary decisions, health care decisions. Women are at the forefront, and certainly, in this election, during this economic downturn, women are disproportionately impacted," she said. Baldwin is also the only openly gay woman in Congress and if elected, she would be the first openly gay woman in the Senate. The Human Rights Campaign has called her candidacy "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/06/tammy-baldwin-senate-wisconsin_n_950163.html" target="_hplink">monumental</a> for both the state of Wisconsin and the country's LGBT community."

  • Rep. Shelley Berkley

    Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), currently in her seventh term in Congress, could be the first female U.S. senator from Nevada. In the first six months of 2011, she <a href="http://lasvegas.cbslocal.com/2011/07/12/shelley-berkley-raises-1-2m-in-senate-race/" target="_hplink">raised more money</a> for her campaign than her opponent, incumbent Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.). <a href="http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2011/PPP_Release_NV_10261118.pdf" target="_hplink">An October 2011 poll</a> showed the two dead even in the general election, both receiving 45 percent of support. She serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means and has been a strong supporter of women's access to abortion. She has <a href="http://emilyslist.org/blog/shelley_berkley_could_save_this_country/" target="_hplink">earned a perfect rating</a> with pro-choice groups for her entire congressional tenure. She has also cosponsored legislation promoting equal pay and a higher minimum wage. Berkley is a <a href="http://www.yuccamountain.org/leg/berkely042502.html" target="_hplink">strong opponent</a> of the construction of a nuclear waste depository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

  • Rep. Mazie Hirono

    Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) could be both the first Asian-American woman elected to the Senate and the first female Hawaiian senator. She serves on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, the Committee on Ethics, and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Raised in Japan until age eight, Hirono would also be the first immigrant elected to the Senate. In an interview with The Huffington Post, she described her upbringing: "My mother brought me to this country, literally to create a better life for us. She had three children that she brought to this country, raised us all by herself, leaving an abusive marriage in Japan. So I've watched my mother work very hard with no health insurance, no job security. I know what it's like for a woman head-of-household. The economic issues that face women and our families are extremely important, and I intend to continue to raise my voice in support of families, many of whom are led by women these days." Hirono is expected to face former Republican governor Linda Lingle in the Senate race.

  • Former Gov. Linda Lingle

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  • Elizabeth Warren

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  • Linda McMahon

    Former World Wresting Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon is making her second go around as a Republican candidate for Connecticut Senate in 2012. She's in the midst of a bruising GOP primary against former Congressman Christopher Shays. The winner will face one of four Democratic candidates. In the 2010 Senate race, McMahon suffered a handy defeat to Democrat Richard Blumenthal after spending more than $50 million of her own money.