Is Todd Akin Toast In Missouri?
There's been much heated commentary over Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, the GOP's Senate nominee, and his comments on a Missouri television station saying "legitimate rape" rarely resulted in pregnancy. He quickly released a statement clarifying his remarks, but not apologizing for them.
Here are my five quick political takeaways from the burgeoning controversy.
1. Akin still holds even odds to defeat Claire McCaskill. Missouri is a Republican-trending state, and still conservative on social issues. This blunder is going to cost Akin dearly with female voters but the race is still a toss-up. There's a reason why Sen. Claire McCaskill was trailing badly to her three Republican primary opponents. Her job approval numbers are very weak in Missouri.
In 2006, when McCaskill ousted GOP Sen. Jim Talent, it was her surprisingly strong performance in the rural parts of Missouri that put her over the top. (Note that Akin underscored his firm opposition to abortion rights in his clarifying statement.) This controversy may not resonate as strongly in those parts of the state as it is currently in Washington. This race is still a toss-up.
To underscore how socially conservative much of Missouri is, check out this campaign ad for Rep. Sam Graves in 2008 against Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes. This was a big House battleground race that year, when President Obama headed the top of the Democratic ticket. The ad, which attacked Barnes' social liberalism, referred to her as "Gay Barnes." But while the punditocracy mocked the ad, Graves won in a landslide.
2. Akin, another not-ready-for-primetime Republican Senate nominee. For the flak Mitt Romney gets over his political skills, it's his party's not-ready-for-primetime battleground Senate nominees that are running behind him. It's awfully ironic that Republican strategists are (anonymously) carping about Romney's pick of Paul Ryan potentially costing them control of the Senate when in reality, it's the GOP's own weak nominees.
Romney could conceivably win the battleground states of Missouri, Indiana, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan without the GOP winning any of those Senate seats. Josh Mandel (Ohio), Pete Hoekstra (Michigan) and Tom Smith (Pennsylvania) are consistently running well behind the presidential ticket. Akin will be in the same situation after the dust settles from this controversy. And Republican strategists are still nervous about Connie Mack's campaign in Florida, knowing that a more-polished Senate nominee would probably be a favorite against Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
3. Don't blame the Tea Party for the predicament. Akin was not the tea party-backed candidate in Missouri. In reality, none of the three candidates Republicans ran in the race fit the definition to a tee. But Akin, as a longtime socially conservative congressman who defended earmarking, hardly fits the profile. He narrowly won a primary where none of the candidates captured excitement from the GOP electorate.
Most of the other weaker-than-average Republican Senate nominees can't be blamed on the tea party movement, either. Mandel won support from tea party groups, but also was recruited by the party establishment. Hoekstra, as a supporter of the TARP bailout, was opposed by many movement conservatives. Smith is a self-funding former Democrat.
The one exception is state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, the tea party favorite who upset Sen. Richard Lugar in the Indiana Senate primary. But while he's turned a guaranteed-Republican seat into a competitive race, he's still a mild favorite to prevail over Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.