ST. LOUIS -- It's one of the most talked about Senate races in the country: Missouri Republican Rep. Todd Akin is taking on Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
Both parties planned to spend millions there. Then Akin's controversial comments on rape sent the GOP into a tailspin.
Party leaders and the media all but gave the win to the Democrats, but it's still anyone's race.
Akin's Rape Gaffe
The Show Me state is proud of producing hard workers with a healthy dose of skepticism. Missourians are also known for being positive but it's hard to tell by the bitter campaign ads.
Observers expected nastiness between incumbent McCaskill and Akin, given the race's potential to shake up the Senate.
However, the real shake up came during an August interview in which Akin was asked if he would support abortions for women who have been raped.
"It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," he replied.
That six seconds upended Akin's lead and support from his own party. It also tossed McCaskill a lifeline she desperately needed.
McCaskill was seen as one of the most vulnerable Senate candidates this election cycle. But she's been able to capitalize on Akin's misstep, one that could ultimately help her do the once unthinkable: win re-election.
But the six-term St. Louis congressman would not give up. He's made up lost ground and turned the contest around.
"This is a very close race, and I believe we have a good chance of making the difference of the control of the Senate," he said.
In an exclusive interview, Akin told CBN News he's had peace about his campaign all along, even when party bosses pressured him to bow out.
"They tried to push him out, and he's hung in," University of Missouri professor Peverill Squire said. "I mean he still has a chance to win, but he's had to do that without having any national Republican support."
Akin campaign adviser Rick Tyler offered his take on the GOP's treatment of the Missouri congressman below:
Mourdock 'Rape' Flap
Akin is not the only candidate drawing fire for pro-life comments.
Criticism rained down on Indiana's Richard Mourdock after he connected pregnancies resulting from rape to God's will.
Nevertheless, Republicans stood behind the lawmaker.
Akin believes leaders abandoned him because he's a conservative willing to buck his own party.
"It may be that some of the leadership in the Senate on the Republican side would be more comfortable with people who are more moderate, and because I'm not, apparently, it's more important to them to get moderates than maybe even taking control of the Senate," Akin speculated.
Values Voters Fueling Akin?
The Akin campaign still struggles with finances. McCaskill raised nearly $6 million in a final fundraising push, while Akin took in less than $2 million. Most of that came from small online donations.
"The party has been very successful in turning off our funding," Akin told CBN News. "So in a sense, they're maybe trying to starve us of oxygen, but the other thing is they haven't starved me of gasoline."
Akin is fueling his momentum by attending events like a Friday fish fry in St. Charles. His references to God and traditional American values appeal to conservative voters.
"He's a strong Christian," Missouri voter Jan Beardsley said. "He's a conservative and that's the kind of people I want to see in Washington."
"And I know in spite of what he says he is rock solid on the issues," Beardsley added.
McCaskill: Akin Too Extreme
Meanwhile, McCaskill , a first-term senator, is portraying Akin as "too extreme" on issues ranging from Medicare to Social Security to views on women.
She's slammed his "legitimate rape" comment, while touting her record as a moderate who works across the aisle.
One McCaskill campaign ad says, "All Senators are ranked 1-100: liberal to conservative. You're looking at number 50. How did I get there? Missouri-style independence. I'm Claire McCaskill, and I approved this message because right in the middle is right for Missouri."
McCaskill was unavailable to talk to CBN News because of the illness and death of her mother.
Her backers, which include several leading Missouri newspapers, say McCaskill's bipartisan approach should be rewarded with a second term.
"She's really created a national niche in terms of keeping an eye on defense spending and taking her former role as a state auditor and applying it to her role in the Senate and saving taxpayers millions, if not billions, of dollars in wasted spending," Tony Messenger, with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said.
Akin disagreed, describing her record as a "disaster." He called McCaskill out-of-step with the average Missouri voter for totally backing President Obama's agenda -- even his health care law, which Missourians widely oppose.
He said he believes that's the memory voters will take with them to the polls.
"I am very mainstream for the state of Missouri, and that's one of the reasons why I'm optimistic," Akin told CBN News. "I'm going forward with a mission, and I plan, by the grace of God, to replace Claire McCaskill."
Akin was arrested four times in the 1980s for taking part in anti-abortion protests, something reporters questioned him on recently. Akin talked with CBN News about the incident. Listen to his comments below:
So what happens if Mitt Romney wins the presidency and the Democrats maintain control of the Senate? Click below for professor Peverill Squire's response: