The final debate in Missouri's U.S. Senate race may have been overshadowed Thursday by the nearby St. Louis Cardinals playoff game, but that didn't stop Sen. Claire McCaskill and Rep. Todd Akin from flinging hardballs at each other.
In an aggressive, one-hour debate at Clayton High School, just a few miles from the game, McCaskill accused Akin of paying his female congressional staffers 23 percent less than his male staffers.
"That's not the way we should have it in America," the Democratic incumbent said. "If you do the same work, you should get the same pay."
Akin, a six-term Republican congressman from Town and Country, didn't respond to the criticism, but he questioned how McCaskill could call herself a moderate when she supported trillions of dollars in deficit spending.
"I guess the thing that comes to my mind is, how much do you have to spend in deficit spending to become a liberal?" he said.
The forum, which came 19 days before Election Day in one of the most closely watched races in the nation, could determine which party controls the Senate next year. Unlike the first debate on Sept. 21 in Columbia, Libertarian candidate Jonathan Dine did not participate. He wasn't invited.
A large crowd was on hand even though the Cardinals were playing Game 4 of the National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants.
McCaskill asked: "If people would hold up their fingers if the Cardinals score, that would be great."
Many of the fastballs the two leveled at each other echoed charges repeated throughout the campaign. McCaskill, Akin said, favors big government; Obamacare, which remains decidedly unpopular in Missouri; and a series of policies he blamed for 43 months of the worst jobless rates since the Great Depression. Akin insisted he's the candidate best suited to cut the nation's budget deficit.
McCaskill countered by calling Akin's conservative record "extreme" and said he has requested "hundreds" of congressional earmarks and sought to privatize Medicare. She called herself moderate, willing to compromise and cooperate with members of the opposing party.
McCaskill saved her newest criticism of Akin for her closing remarks, saying that the congressman doesn't back equality in the workplace.
"He supports the boss being able to decide whether or not you get paid less just because you're a woman," she said.
Akin suggested the attack was a dodge from the fact that the economy remains a mess. He compared McCaskill to a magician who says, "Look over here while I put my hand in your pocket."
He said she promised to be transparent but then "got rich making a business that takes advantage of other people being in poverty."
He was referring to one of his latest attacks in which he accuses McCaskill and her family of pocketing nearly $40 million of federal housing subsidies during her first five years in office. McCaskill has denied the charge, and news organizations have generally backed her account.
Said Akin: "So much for transparency."
He added that his opponent has "this instinctive sense" that the federal government has to do everything.
"That's why the budget is out of control," he said.
McCaskill said Akin repeatedly voted to raise his congressional pay while opposing what she called crucial programs for veterans and farmers. Akin never responded.
Early on, the two were asked where they were willing to compromise to break the gridlock enveloping Congress as it struggles to deal with the upcoming "fiscal cliff," which will force a series of tax increases and massive spending cuts unless legislators act.
Akin's response: Reduce the size of the federal government, "get red tape under control" and consider cuts to the corporate tax rate.
McCaskill said she would implement "pieces" of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission report on reducing the federal deficit and compromise on a lower corporate tax rate. She would support cutting off wealthy Americans from some Medicare programs and raise taxes to close the deficit.
"It's not just cutting the size of government," she said.
The two also differed on the DREAM Act, which would allow the children of illegal immigrants to remain in the country under certain circumstances. McCaskill said she favored it. Akin said he didn't.
In fact, he criticized President Barack Obama for his June decision to halt the deportation of immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children.
"We can't allow the president the authority to enforce laws not passed by Congress," Akin said.