Sen. Claire McCaskill defeated Rep. Todd Akin in the Missouri Senate race on Tuesday with 51 percent of the vote, according to the Associated Press.
In a state that Mitt Romney will win by a large margin, McCaskill relied on independent and split-ticket voters to carry her to reelection. She went from being one of the most vulnerable incumbents at the beginning of the cycle to holding a single-digit lead in final polls.
Republicans thought the Show-Me State would be key to their capturing of the Senate majority. Their plan hit a snag after Akin made comments about “legitimate rape.”
Akin framed his comments as a six-second mistake versus McCaskill’s six-year voting record and tied her to President Obama in ads. His comments, however, damaged the GOP’s chances of retaking the Senate and spotlighted social issues, including abortion, for Republican candidates across the country.
If Akin had won, it would have solidified a significant rightward shift in Missouri since McCaskill was elected in 2006.
National Republicans, including Romney, and Republican super PACs largely abandoned Akin and publicly called for him to quit the race after his controversial comments. Since the incident, Akin campaigned among his base by targeting evangelical voters, with support from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and the Family Research Council. He also shaped his campaign as anti-Washington and anti-national parties, at one point comparing his race against McCaskill to now-Sen. Marco Rubio’s primary race against Charlie Crist in Florida.
Without support from the national Republican Party and major super PACs, Akin, already not much of a fundraiser, relied largely on small-dollar donors and was outspent by McCaskill, who has raised more than $17 million this cycle compared to Akin’s roughly $4.6 million. At one point, TV stations took down Akin’s spots because they hadn’t received a payment, but Akin’s campaign cited scheduling confusion and not fundraising concerns.
Akin wasn’t national Republicans first choice, in part because of his voting record. Many saw McCaskill’s ads during the primary calling Akin a true conservative as an attempt to influence the Republican primary and give Akin a win over John Brunner and Sarah Steelman. Her campaign framed the election as Akin being too extreme for Missouri and independent voters, focusing on Akin’s statements on the school lunch program, Social Security, and Medicare.
Republicans tried to rally around Akin in the campaign’s final weeks, spending more than $2 million in the last week to try to give him an edge. McCaskill landed her strongest hit against Akin with an ad featuring Mitt Romney calling on Akin to drop out of the race. The increase in spending for Akin wasn’t enough to overcome McCaskill’s huge spending advantage throughout the fall, which left her attack ads going largely unanswered.