POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. — The Duggar family, reality stars from the TLC show "19 Kids and Counting," barnstormed rural Missouri on Tuesday and Wednesday in support of Rep. Todd Akin's bid for U.S. Senate.
If the von Trapp children had hit the campaign trail, it might have looked something like this.
The first of the events Wednesday was held in a community center in Farmington, Mo., where so many people showed up, roughly 150, that the Duggars gave up their chairs. ("We won't be sitting much anyway," Jim Bob Duggar told the crowd.) Some families were still left standing; none seemed to mind.
The family, who double as national stars of the anti-abortion movement, stopped later in Poplar Bluff, Mo., just north of Missouri's Bootheel, where they were met with a slightly smaller crowd. A local family, among Akin's most committed donors, hosted the event at the medical testing facility they own.
At both stops, the children, joined occasionally by their parents, performed a seven-song set, which included a mashup of "America the Beautiful" and "My Country Tis of Thee." A religious song, sung to the tune of "Edelweiss," capped the recital.
Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, the heads of the Duggar clan, told their audiences that they had met the Akins in Rolla, Mo., roughly one month ago. "And we just fell in love with them," Jim Bob Duggar said. "They are such a precious couple."
But their presence was also the latest mark of the backlash in the Evangelical Christian community that has kept the embattled Missouri candidate in the race for Senate after a remark about "legitimate rape" and pregnancy positioned him far outside the mainstream abortion argument.
And Jim Bob Duggar is not new to politics: He was elected to serve as a state representative in Arkansas and, later, lost a Republican primary race for U.S. Senate.
"We know how tough it is to be a candidate," he said. "It's a lot easier to help a candidate than to be the candidate yourself."
When Jim Bob lost his Senate race, a photo of his family at the polls ran in The New York Times, leading to national interest in his family and, ultimately, a television show. When Akin won a hotly contested Republican primary for Congress in 2000, Duggar said, that was also "God's providence."
"The day of the election, there was a downpour of rain," Jim Bob Duggar said, "and he ended up winning by 56 votes."
"Wow," the crowd whispered in unison.
And so it would be again, the Duggars said, if Akin's supporters urged their friends and members of their church to vote.
As they ended their speech, the Duggars moved to sit down and sign autographs. Akin supporters lined up, filing past yard signs for the candidate, their attention trained on meeting the reality television stars.