Inside Politics: Poll shows Missouri Senate race still a toss-up

Despite widespread assertions that Republican Rep. W. Todd Akin’s abortion remarks have made him a heavy underdog in Missouri’s U.S. Senate race, a Democratic-leaning firm released a poll Thursday showing him in a virtual dead heat with incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.

According to the survey by Public Policy Polling, Ms. McCaskill has support from 45 percent of likely Missouri voters compared with 44 percent for Mr. Akin, a result that differs strongly from polls conducted last week by other firms.

Mr. Akin has been widely condemned by Democrats and Republicans since he made comments in an Aug. 19 television interview, in which he tried to explain his opposition to abortion for rape victims by saying that pregnancy is rare in cases of “legitimate rape.”

FLORIDA

Scott Brown distances himself from platform

TAMPA — Sen. Scott P. Brown was quick to distance himself from the Republican establishment after arriving in Tampa on Thursday morning, saying he’s happy to be at the convention’s final day but warning that he disagrees with parts of his party’s conservative platform.

Locked into a hard fight against Democrat Elizabeth Warren to keep his Senate seat, the Massachusetts Republican has been painting himself to voters as a centrist even as the GOP moves to the right on many issues.

“Obviously, me being here is important in that it shows someone who’s a pro-choice, moderate Republican is here as part of the big tent that we have and should have and will continue to have,” he said, speaking to reporters at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, next door to the convention center.

As Mr. Brown emphasizes independence from his party, Mrs. Warren has been arguing that he would cater to the broader Republican base if re-elected.

FLORIDA

Ryan says he looks forward to debating

TAMPA — Paul Ryan says he’s already looking forward to debating Vice President Joseph R. Biden and thinks his experience as a congressman will give him an edge.

The Wisconsin Republican, in an interview with CNN, said while he thinks Mr. Biden is a good debater, his 14 years in the House will be an advantage.

That’s all we do in the House, said Mr. Ryan.

Mr. Biden served as a Democratic senator from Delaware for 36 years before becoming vice president.

Mitt Romney’s running mate said he’s already started preparing for the debate against Mr. Biden, set for Oct. 11 in Danville, Ky.

STATE

Clinton trip takes her far away from campaign

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will try to reassert American interests in the Asia-Pacific region in the face of China’s growing influence as she kicks off a six-nation trip.

Mrs. Clinton left Washington on Thursday on a trip that will keep her half a world away from U.S. politics at the height of the presidential conventions. But her travels will put her at the center of rising tensions over territorial disputes involving China and its neighbors in the South China Sea.

Mrs. Clinton visits Beijing at the midpoint of the 11-day tour that begins in the remote Cook Islands and then Indonesia.

Other stops include East Timor and Brunei.

She also will represent the U.S. at a summit of leaders from Pacific Rim countries in Vladivostok, Russia.

FLORIDA

In the digital age, whither the campaign button?

TAMPA — In this era of high-tech and nonstop social networking, the campaign button has lost its luster.

Politicians and their operations instead push their messages with a relentless barrage of television ads, emails and cellphone alerts, while many voters express their opinions via tweets, Facebook posts and blogs.

Buttons extolling the Republican ticket and tearing into Democrats haven’t disappeared entirely, but they are far from ubiquitous. It’s been rare at this week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa to see campaign buttons being displayed or sold.

Campaign buttons have been part of American politics since the days of President Washington. Some of the first buttons were sewn on clothes or worn similar to a necklace. Those eventually gave way to metal buttons with fastening pins.

PENTAGON

Military to consider suing ex-SEAL over Osama book

The Pentagon’s top lawyer has informed the former Navy SEAL who authored a forthcoming book describing details of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden that he violated agreements to not divulge military secrets and that as a result the Pentagon is considering taking legal action against him.

The general counsel of the Defense Department, Jeh Johnson, wrote in a letter transmitted to the author Thursday that he had signed two nondisclosure agreements with the Navy in 2007 that obliged him to “never divulge” classified information.

Mr. Johnson said that after reviewing a copy of the book, “No Easy Day,” the Pentagon concluded that the author is in “material breach and violation” of the agreements. He said the department is considering pursuing against him “all remedies legally available to us.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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