Trained as an engineer, Republican Senate hopeful Todd Akin sees politics as the practice of defining a problem and finding a way to solve it.
Yet the suburban St. Louis congressman's deep-seated religious faith has been equally important to his political thinking.
"Every one of you has a purpose and a dream that God puts in your heart," he said to the 150 or so voters at a candidates forum in Excelsior Springs last month. God, he said, "will pay attention to people who are obedient to him and live up to this dream."
Akin said it in a forceful yet quiet cadence often heard from the pulpit. It was in contrast to the sometimes halting delivery of former Missouri treasurer Sarah Steelman and the well-rehearsed presentation of former business executive John Brunner, his two main opponents in the Republican primary.
The winner will face Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in one of the most closely watched contests in the nation.
"I'm just a polar opposite with Claire in terms of my political beliefs," Akin said. "I just think her policies are wrecking the country." But he added: "I don't accuse her of that maliciously."
Akin represents Missouri's 2nd Congressional District. Several legislative scorecards have labeled Akin the most conservative member of the state's congressional delegation, which he said "came at a price. It's easy when you're running for office to talk conservative and promise to be conservative. It's a different thing to deliver. You may be stuck with a very squishy senator for years."
Akin is far from squishy. He has stiffed his own party when he hasn't thought it was adhering closely enough to conservative principles, like his vote last summer against the debt ceiling compromise worked out between House GOP leaders and the White House.
More recently, he blasted the federal student loan program.
"America has got the equivalent of the stage three cancer of socialism because the federal government is tampering in all kinds of stuff it has no business tampering in," he said during a campaign appearance.
Democrats howled in protest. President Barack Obama complained -- although not by name -- that Akin had gone "off the deep end."
Despite his hard-line conservatism, Akin is not a political fire breather. Colleagues in both parties say he expresses his view in a soft-spoken manner with a smile.
Akin said he has political disagreements, but not enemies.
"I don't know either of the other two candidates and am, obviously, supporting Sen. McCaskill," said Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City, the founder of the House Civility Caucus. "Having said that, I am always happy to see colleagues, on either side of the aisle, voice their opinions in a respectful way."
Some Missouri Republicans worry that, despite more than two decades in politics, Akin has no statewide political network to aid him in the final stretch.
"He's had a very difficult transition going from a St. Louis county congressman to a statewide candidate," said James Harris, a Missouri Republican strategist.
Akin grew up in the St. Louis suburb of Town and Country, once a pocket of rolling farmland and white picket fences but now a wealthy enclave that such luminaries as sportscaster Bob Costas and St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith have called home.
Akin studied engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts and divinity at the Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. After a stint in the Army as a combat engineer, he went to work for IBM in Boston, where he met his wife. From there, he went to Laclede Steel, which was started by his great-grandfather.
"No more three-piece suits, no more white shirts, just blue jeans and hard hats," he said. "Forty stories up on an H-beam with no guardrails."
He enjoys playing sports, not watching them, is not a "huge reader" of popular literature, though he admits to an occasional Tom Clancy novel, and he regularly pores over the Wall Street Journal editorial page. He also studies the Bible every morning.
His passions outside his faith and politics are music and history.
"The beginning of how America started established a trajectory of who we are as a people," Akin said. "I think we've violated a lot of the principles we were founded upon and we've forgotten those things and we're getting into trouble."
His politically like-minded good friend, Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa, said Akin is "a full-spectrum constitutional conservative. He seeks the lessons from the Founding Fathers."
Akin also plays the guitar, which he learned in college while studying calculus because it was "much more fun." His musical tastes reflect his love of America's past: Appalachian folk songs, sea chanteys and country blues.
As he campaigns around the state, he is seeing much of it for the first time.
"The geography is really a little intimidating," Akin said. "But it seems like people are very open-minded to someone who tries to stick to principle and isn't interested in always trying to game something politically."