OSBORN, Mo.—At a cattle auction here late last month, drought-stricken farmers expecting to appraise livestock found themselves instead looking over the country’s most-vilified Senate candidate.
Rep. Todd Akin was four-and-a-half hours and a tax bracket or two away from his prosperous, suburban St. Louis congressional district. Accompanied by his wife and three aides, Akin was making the second stop of his first day of public campaigning for the Senate after his statement that “legitimate rape” rarely causes pregnancy. In the 12 days since, he had rocketed from being a mostly unknown figure—even within his own Republican Party—to being a political pariah drawing unfavorable reviews from most Missouri voters. He had received death and rape threats. And Akin was surely aware that people he met—even out here in Osborn—saw him first as the guy who uttered the words “legitimate rape.”
But he plunged right in, introducing himself to anyone who missed the “Todd Akin” sticker on his shirt, and talking one-on-one with coffee-sipping farmers. In the process, he made it clear why he is remaining in the race against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill—and why he is probably going to lose.
One reason involves the loaves and the fishes. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has booked about $5 million worth of airtime for McCaskill, who entered the fall with $3 million of her own money in reserve. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, meantime, said it will not spend a dime for Akin, who has quickly exhausted the $425,000 that his campaign said it raised online between his Aug. 19 “rape” remark and this week.
Akin likes to note that he prevailed in a primary in which he was also outspent. His wife, Lulli, who plays a major role in this campaign and, like her husband, is a born-again Christian, said that their campaign funding at this point depends on God. The couple are members of the Presbyterian Church in America.
“God can increase,” she said, citing the “Feeding of the 5,000”—a Gospel miracle in which Jesus uses five small barley loaves and two small fish to feed a multitude.
The campaign will take small contributions, “respect them, and say ‘God, multiply it. Make it pay,’ ” Lulli Akin said. “It brought us through the primary, same way. We’re gonna see it again, because God wants to be honored.”
“I don’t do wrong things intentionally. Sometimes I hurt people, but I don’t mean to.”—Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo.
While Akin was here discussing grain prices with one farmer, McCaskill was preparing to reach Missouri’s 6 million residents with a television ad touting her moderate voting record, an ad buy that Akin could not afford to effectively counter. That problem will worsen for him after a Sept. 25 deadline for petitioning to get off ballot—the last chance Akin has to leave the race. That’s when Democrats will likely unleash an onslaught of millions of dollars’ worth of negative ads.
That’s a lot of loaves and a lot of fishes. And the financial imbalance, more than polling, is the reason campaign analysts call McCaskill a strong favorite to win the race.
“IT’S BIGGER THAN ME”
The Akins’ faith is evident in their personal life. They homeschooled their six children. The six-term House member has a master’s degree in divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. Faith forms Akin’s political identity as well. The animating concept of his campaign is the notion in the Declaration of Independence that God grants Americans their rights. He has said that promoting that message is the “cause” for which he defied calls by Republican Party leaders and others to quit the race.
Akin credits God, too, for the principle that citizens should elect their government, a right that he says would be violated if “party bosses” forced his exit.
“It’s bigger than me,” Akin told about 20 people at a meet and greet in Plattsburg, 50 minutes north of Kansas City and his next stop after the cattle auction. “I am very into the idea of principle and not very tolerant of politics—and a whole lot less so than I was before.”
Despite being left for roadkill by his own party, Akin has supporters; he told them in Plattsburg that’s he’s staying in the race until November. His voice quivering, he said he takes “very seriously” supporters who say, “ ‘I trust you because I know you’re an honest man.’ ”
“A lot of people don’t understand me exactly,” Akin said. “When I say something, I do what I say I am going do.”
Republicans in Missouri—lawmakers, political operatives, and others—seem to uniformly share Akin’s assessment that the furor over his remark left him poorly understood. And they agree that Akin, even after a dozen years each in the Missouri state House and the U.S. House, has never “been a party person, particularly,” as he put it.
“He has never really understood the political process and never really reached out to others,” said one Republican in the state. The operative described Akin’s unfamiliarity with major Missouri donors with whom other state Republicans keep close contact.
This article appears in the September 15, 2012 edition of National Journal Magazine.