ST. LOUIS — As the Republican National Convention prepares to kick off in Tampa, the man Republicans want least to hear from may be partly obliging them.
Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., still says he will not drop out of his race against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. Akin campaign spokesman Ryan Hite said on Monday that the Senate hopeful will “hit the campaign trail again later this week” with stops expected in the Kansas City and southwest Missouri regions.
But with no public events announced for him so far during the GOP convention—and as his long round of nationally broadcast apologies and his vows to keep running appear to wind down—Akin seems to be doing Mitt Romney and national Republicans the favor of mostly lying low this week.
Akin was on talk radio stations in Kansas City, Mo., and St. Louis on Monday. Local Republicans, both supporters and critics, say that he seems buoyed by vocal support from social conservatives in Missouri and nationally. But from a traditional campaign standpoint, he is reeling. A recent poll showed his unpopularity surging. Although he raised money last week, his remark leaves him unable to raise the funds he needs to continue robust statewide advertising, campaign consultants here say.
Republican leaders are still hoping to push Akin out of race, but top Republicans have some common interest with him. Akin wants to move past his controversial comment. The party wants to ignore it. That may be the makings of a truce, at least for a few days, while Republicans rally around Romney. But in Missouri and nationally, there is little chance of rewinding the damage.
Akin’s comment, the resulting attempt by prominent national Republicans to force him out, and the counterreaction from conservatives, led by former presidential candidate and radio host Mike Huckabee, have made Akin’s candidacy a symbol of the deep divide in the Republican Party. A Republican establishment eager to sideline social issues and court independent voters on fiscal matters faces religious conservatives in nearly full-scale revolt.
Huckabee, who was rescheduled to a Wednesday speaking slot in Tampa, does not have to mention Akin. Only six days after he accused party leaders of abandoning social conservatives, Huckabee’s appearance alone highlights the Republican rift.
From the other side of the GOP spectrum, retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, in a Washington Post op-ed on Sunday urged Romney to dissociate himself from a GOP platform plank opposing abortion in all cases. There is little commonality between the factions Huckabee and Snowe represent. With multiple recent polls showing Romney trailing Obama by more than 10 percentage points among women, and the race expected to turn on independents, Romney cannot win without voters who side with Snowe. But in repudiating Akin, the GOP has already upset many social conservatives. The longer the fight over his candidacy lingers, the greater the chance of reduced turnout from that small but important part of the GOP coalition.
That damage, and the conclusion by GOP campaign strategists that Akin has no chance of defeating McCaskill, explains why GOP leaders still see Akin’s exit from the race, even if he waits a few weeks, as their best and only option.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on Sunday again urged Akin to drop his bid. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on the same day that Akin “would not be welcome by Republicans in the United States Senate.”
But it probably will not come to that. A KMOV-TV/St. Louis Post-Dispatch poll by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research released late on Friday showed disastrous fallout for Akin. The poll had Akin trailing McCaskill by 9 points, a sharp reversal from a July poll. McCaskill opened an 18 percent lead among women. Worse, Akin rocketed from mostly unknown to unpopular with a wide majority—he has been introduced to voters in the worst possible way.
Akin claims continued support from social conservatives in his state. But the poll found 47 percent of Republicans think he should withdraw, versus 37 percent who believe he should stay in the race. Fifty percent of self-described Akin voters want him out, versus 34 percent who do not. The gap among independents is 57 percent to 25 percent for withdrawal.
Compounding his problems, although his campaign said it raised more than $200,000 last week in small donations from conservatives rallying behind the candidate, multiple local and national GOP campaign consultants said that is not enough. Standard TV adverting in at least three big Missouri markets costs at least $300,000 and perhaps $500,000 per week, the consultants said.
After winning the Republican primary earlier this month, Akin had almost $500,000 left on hand, but subsequently spent most of it attempting to repair the damage from his rape remark, GOP consultants estimated.
Akin is more or less “broke” and “he’s not gonna raise the money he needs in $5 increments” said James Harris, a Missouri and Washington-based Republican political consultant. Meanwhile, with national Republican groups on the sidelines as long as Akin remains in the race, “no one is attacking [McCaskill],” Harris said.
For most candidates, that kind of polling and fundraising is more than enough reason to quit. But Akin, both supporters and detractors note, is no regular candidate. He won his first House race and the Senate primary against expectations and has never relied on the local and national network of GOP fundraisers and advisers that other state Republicans court. No one questions his professions of a faith-driven career.
Akin is surrounded by loyalists—his son manages his campaign—and by all accounts has limited contact with those outside his circle. Multiple GOP sources said that Akin changed his cell-phone number after an opponent made it public via Twitter. Akin is isolated even from most Republicans and increasingly reliant on a national network of social conservatives.
“He is gonna stay in the fight and he feels no reason to back down,” said Joan Langenberg, president of the Missouri affiliate of Phyllis Schlafly's national Eagle Forum. Langenberg was among a group of activists who met with Akin last week in Florida and on Saturday sent an e-mail urging a list she said includes about 1,500 conservatives to back him.
“A lot of people are really fired up about it,” Langenberg said.