Republican challenger Todd Akin revved up supporters with a revival-style rally Saturday while Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill dispatched volunteers door-to-door during the final weekend of Missouri's nationally watched U.S. Senate race.
With polls showing a close contest and control of the chamber potentially at stake, McCaskill and Akin focused on firing up the faithful, encouraging the less-motivated to find the voting booth and persuading any still-wavering voters to join their cause. Meanwhile, millions of dollars' worth of ads continued clogging the airwaves, reminding voters of the candidates' virtues and their opponents' flaws.
"There is a grand organization to this," McCaskill explained to about 20 staff members and volunteers crammed into a Columbia campaign office waiting for instructions for a neighborhood canvass. "We are going to turn out a vote that will translate into actual differences in the margin (of victory) Tuesday."
Akin, meanwhile, said he was energized by the reception he received from about 150 supporters at a lengthy Kansas City pep rally that featured Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and conservative columnist Star Parker. Akin later made a quick campaign stop in Jefferson City before heading to St. Louis County for larger rally featuring Parker and Christian singer Twila Paris.
"People are going to be real surprised with the result of this election," said Akin, adding that he was "cautiously optimistic" he would win.
Tuesday's election will conclude what has been an unusually emotional and memorable campaign.
Akin, a suburban St. Louis congressman, was abandoned by many party leaders and publicly ridiculed after he remarked in a mid-August TV interview that women's bodies have ways of avoiding pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape." Akin apologized repeatedly and temporarily retreated from the spotlight. But he forged ahead with his campaign despite calls from presidential candidate Mitt Romney and other top Republicans that he quit.
McCaskill later canceled more than a week of campaign activities to spend time with her ailing mother, who died Oct. 29. McCaskill wore black clothing during recent campaign appearances, which she said was unintentional but that nonetheless reflected her mood. A memorial service for her mother, Betty Anne Ward McCaskill, was scheduled for Sunday.
On Saturday, McCaskill was helping coordinate the final logistics of both the memorial service and her campaign. In Columbia, she encouraged volunteers who planned to knock on 3,535 doors Saturday and an additional 3,640 on Sunday. Statewide, Democrats planned to canvass more than 1 million homes and make more than 1.5 million phone calls in the final four days.
Columbia office staffer Amy Kroll instructed volunteers to ask people what time of day they plan to vote and how they plan to get there -- questions intended to firm up commitments to cast ballots. Volunteers also received talking points to accompany door hangers that featured photos of McCaskill and the rest of the Democratic slate for state executive offices.
McCaskill described Akin as a "rigid ideologue" who has "outside the mainstream" beliefs.
Akin said voters should concentrate not on his words, but on McCaskill's actions in support of President Barack Obama's policies. His campaign has frequently highlighted McCaskill's support for the 2009 stimulus act and 2010 health care law.
"My six-second mistake is part of the history of this campaign," Akin said, adding: "Contrast that six seconds versus six years" of decisions by McCaskill.
Akin's event Saturday at the World War I Museum in Kansas City was heavily geared toward women and had a religious theme. While describing McCaskill as liberal, Parker said liberals were taking the nation toward a future of "Pimps, Whores and Welfare Brats," which also is the name of a book she published in 1998. Videos featuring women professing they were voting for Akin drew applause, and comments by Parker and Akin received occasional "amens."
At the Jefferson City event, Parker gave Akin a big hug in front of about 30 campaign supporters, some of whom had been canvassing neighborhoods. Republicans had a statewide goal of knocking on about 500,000 doors and making phone calls to about 500,000 homes as part of their get-out-the-vote effort.
"Todd, we need you in the Senate," Parker said, then addressing his supporters, added: "You can get him there. All we have to do is keep our zeal."
Draper reported from Kansas City. Lieb reported from Columbia and Jefferson City.