“He is unique,” said former Republican Sen. John Danforth, who argued that Akin’s highlighting of divisive social issues undermines Republicans’ focus on the economy and debt. “He is unique, because unlike everybody else I have ever seen in politics, he has taken the banner and marched into the woods.”
Akin highlights Republican leaders’ difficulty in managing their compact with tea partiers and social conservatives. The GOP seeks their votes but real, conscience-driven candidates pose problems. Those who are willing to lose on principle often do.
But while pundits find it tempting to tout Akin’s continuing candidacy as emblematic of the tea party, social conservatives, born-again Christians, or of the rightward drift of Missouri politics, Akin is of a different sort. He is part of all those things. But he is not particularly representative of them, any more than he represents the Republican Party.
Akin was born in New York City, earned an engineering degree at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, and worked for IBM outside Boston for four years. That is no standard résumé for a Midwestern archconservative. He was raised and lived for much of his adulthood in the leafy city of Town and Country, one of the wealthy St. Louis suburbs that make up much of his district. The lawmaker and his constituents are a long way from many of the financially struggling rural and exurban voters whose support he needs in November.
These days, Akin repeatedly asks voters to ignore “distractions” and instead compare his voting record with McCaskill’s. Her affinity with President Obama is her chief vulnerability in this right-leaning state and the reason that, before Akin’s controversial remarks, Republicans were gleefully chalking up the race in the win column. At the meet-and-greet, Akin said that McCaskill has voted with Obama 98 percent of the time and was “hugging on him and loving on him” during one of the president’s appearances in the state.
“I don’t know who he’s working for, but it isn’t for us,” Akin said of Obama. “And Claire McCaskill isn’t working for us either.”
THE TIES THAT BIND
Akin grows most animated when discussing God as the source of American rights. That’s the first sentence of his campaign brochure, and the concept of a divinely derived Constitution is a foundation of his political views. On the stump, he sounds like a tea partier by way of the New Testament. He has opposed or questioned Medicare, the 2010 health care law, and the federal role in issuing student loans on the grounds that the Constitution does not grant the federal government those powers.
“What makes America unique and different?” Akin asked voters in Plattsburg. “I would say to you, it’s this idea that the Founders brought us—that there is a creator, that God gave us life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. No other nation has ever been founded on that idea. And I think if we ever lose sight of that, then we are no longer the America you and I grew up with. And that is what I am standing for, the idea, first of all, that God gave us life.”
His campaign operation, by design, is small-scale and close-knit, one much more befitting a House member than a Senate candidate in a race that has gone national. His son Perry manages the campaign. Lulli Akin is a major influence, something that GOP strategists critical of Akin privately lament.
Many Akin campaign staffers are joined through social or church ties to the Akin family. An aide said that they are committed to their boss as a cause rather than a means to advance their careers. This model served Akin in his first, upset House victory and his win over a better-funded opponent, businessman John Brunner, and others in the GOP Senate primary this summer. Those successes fuel the Akins’ confidence that they can win again.
Calls by leading Republicans for him to drop out have only increased the insularity of his campaign. NRSC staffers who were working to prepare the campaign for Akin’s first competitive, nationally watched general election disappeared. The controversy meant that Akin’s paid staff of about 30, according to senior campaign aide Rick Tyler (a longtime sideman to Newt Gingrich), did not significantly expand with experienced party operatives, as is often the case as campaigns shift into general-election mode. After a critic tweeted Akin’s cell-phone number, he changed it. As a result, many Missouri Republicans are unable to reach him.
The pressure and attacks clearly reinforced Akin’s sense of mission. For the family of the lawmaker known for dressing in colonial garb at Fourth of July parties, the attacks also increased their identification with Revolutionary America. Lulli Akin said that efforts to push her husband out of the race threaten to replace elections “by the people and for the people” with “tyranny, a top-down approach.” She added, “Party bosses dictating who is allowed to advance through the party and make all the decisions—it’s just like 1776 in that way.”