By Paul Kanellopoulos
It was almost inconceivable that Senator Claire McCaskill (D) would be successful in her bout to seek re-election against Todd Akin (R). Then, Mr. Akin’s controversial comments about rape made the opposite conclusion seem much more likely.
Now, after resisting calls from outside and within the Republican Party to withdraw from the race, Mr. Akin’s experienced resurgence over the past month puts the outcome in much more doubt.
The Missouri Senate race is now considered a tossup by Real Clear Politics, despite the fact that Mr. Akin lost support from the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and a number of political action committees (PAC).
Polls tracking the race are all over the map, ranging from predictions of a six-point lead for Ms. McCaskill, to a half point lead, to even a lead for Mr. Akin.
After being left high and dry by his party, Mr. Akin has highlighted his bid for election as a battle between the average conservative voter and the Republican establishment, citing the groundswell of grassroots support he received in the face of scorn from the party elite.
Since his comments, Mr. Akin has repeatedly apologized for his remarks and raised more than $600,000 through his online effort to rebrand his campaign.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) have expressed their support for Mr. Akin in the wake of the public backlash against him. Senator Jim DeMint’s (R-SC) pro-Tea Party group and the Senate Conservatives Fund have also backed Mr. Akin, contributing almost $300,000. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has recently done the same.
The beleaguered congressman has also received support from within his state, obtaining 81 percent of his funding from Missouri residents.
Despite these contributions, Ms. McCaskill’s campaign still maintains a sizable funding advantage. According to data compiled by Kantar Media/AMG, her campaign has raised $5.8 million since July 1 and spent seven times more on advertisements than Mr. Akin.
However, with Mr. Akin’s name locked in to the ballot, many in his circle believe that he will soon regain the support of the Republican elite who initially supported his ouster. A number of current and former senators are coming back to Mr. Akin’s corner after first recommending he drop out of the race. With a Republican majority in the Senate at stake, many within the party believe it is too risky not to back him now that the race is competitive again.
On the other hand, high-profile Republicans ranging from presidential nominee Mitt Romney to Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) still have not gotten behind Akin. The NRSC and Karl Rove’s PAC, American Crossroads, are still saying they don’t plan on re-entering the race. Although Mr. Akin will not regain much of the financial support he has lost, he has been kept afloat by a strong effort from his base of anti-abortion activists and Christian conservatives. According to exit polls, 38 percent of the state’s 2.9 million voters identified as evangelical Christians in 2008.
Ms. McCaskill has vulnerabilities of her own, which have contributed to Mr. Akin’s recent bounce. She has been hit hard by Missourians’ perception of her allegiance to the national Democratic Party. Despite only narrowly supporting Senator John McCain in 2008, the state has taken a strong conservative turn over the past four years.
According to Public Policy Polling, 50 percent of likely voters in Missouri would prefer Republican control of the Senate. The 14 percent of Missouri’s undecided voters are overwhelmingly conservative, favoring a Republican controlled senate 65-14. The Presidential race is not particularly competitive in the state either, with Mr. Romney leading President Obama 51-45 percent.
Although Ms. McCaskill has tried to position herself as a moderate, she was a vocal supporter of the president during his election bid and supported policies disdained by the state’s population. In particular, Ms. McCaskill’s support for Obamacare” and her “F” rating from the National Rifle Association have been attacked by the political right within the state. However, Ms. McCaskill is leading Mr. Akin by as much as 18 percent among women voters, and the remaining weeks of the campaign will be dependent upon Mr. Akin’s ability to deal with the gender gap and assuage concerns about his comments. This seems unlikely to occur, however, as Mr. Akin has continued making controversial remarks, including calling Ms. McCaskill “a dog” and stating that she is not “ladylike” enough for Missouri.
While Mr. Akin’s accusations of Ms. McCaskill not being as “ladylike” as she had been in her 2006 campaign have drawn additional criticism, he has dismissed these apparent weaknesses as matters of “optics” and remains confident about his chances moving forward. He argues that the gender gap is the same as it would have been regardless of the comments.
Mr. Akin has been trying to rebuild his image with women by inviting Janet Huckabee, the former First Lady of Arkansas and wife of 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, to campaign for him. They will try to convince women that Mr. Akin will support their interests in Congress despite his controversial comments.
Mr. Akin believes that his campaign against the incumbent can secure victory. By focusing on Ms. McCaskill and her record, the campaign believes it can overcome much of the ground they lost after his initial incendiary remarks. Rick Tyler, a spokesperson for the Aikin campaign, told BuzzFeed Magazine that female voters in Missouri “understand that [Akin] misspeaking and apologizing for it does not trump” unpopular elements of her voting record. Tyler cited the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and the stimulus as the specific objects of criticism.
With the election only weeks away, voters and political annalists around the country will soon find out if they are right.