Akin Fallout Turns GOP Economic Messaging on Its Head

Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) has pledged to push forward alone if need be in his quest for a Senate seat. But the ripple effect of his "legitimate rape" scandal this week knocks the all-important campaign messaging war off-kilter for Republicans just days before the GOP is scheduled to gather in Tampa, Fla., to christen presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Pundits, pollsters, and oddsmakers alike generally agree that for Romney to stand a chance of pulling a second term out from under President Obama, he needs to focus squarely on the economy. With stagnant high unemployment and the Congressional Budget Office today reporting that 2012 will be the fourth consecutive year with a deficit exceeding $1 trillion, and with voters still feeling the sting from recession and wary of another downturn, the Romney campaign has worked with all its might to push and pull the conversation back to the economy every time another issue captures the headlines.

The Democrats' messaging blitzkrieg that Republicans were staging a "war on women" simmered down -- supplanted by economic debates such as the Bush-era tax cuts and deep defense cuts -- after the spring. The raging debate over the Health and Human Services contraception mandate, the Hill testimony of law student Sandra Fluke, and the responses of Rush Limbaugh and Foster Friess fueled the "war on women" meme, which was revived to a lesser degree during the Violence Against Women Act renewal fight before recess that didn't receive much media attention.

But just when Republicans seemed to be winning with the direction of the conversation, when the topic after the selection of vice presidential pick Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was a balanced budget and his "Path to Prosperity," the Akin scandal has fired a social-issues torpedo at convention week.

Akin's comments have trained eyes on select planks of the Republican platform drafted this week. Whereas the policies agreed upon bear little change from previous years, critics are using that platform as evidence that the GOP and the six-term renegade congressman are of one "radical" mind on social issues.

Whereas the national campaign wants deficit reduction, job creation, and a business-friendly environment to be the policies convention-watchers hear about most, the focus has already spun to social elements of the platform being adopted this week: a human-life amendment that would not infringe on the rights of the unborn, abstinence-only sex-ed for teens, and rejection of civil unions for gay couples.

One delegate argued before the platform committee that the morning-after pill for rape victims should be excluded from a plank advocating a ban on drugs used to terminate pregnancies. Jacqueline Curtiss from Alabama brought up the concern about the exception, she said, “in light of the recent comments by Congressman Todd Akin and in an attempt to reaffirm to the American people the party’s sensitivity to the subject of rape," reported Bloomberg. The committee agreed.

Democrats have been especially eager to take personal swings at anyone touched by Akin.

In nearly 5,000 votes over their history of concurrently serving in the House, Akin and Ryan voted together 93 percent of the time, compared to the 86 percent average for Republicans.

But it's one bill, introduced at the dawn of the 112th Congress, that included a definition of the word "rape" which served as the main piece of legislation in Democrats' arsenal.

H.R. 3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) on Jan. 20, 2011, was co-sponsored by 227 members including Ryan and Akin. The original language provided an exception "if the pregnancy occurred because the pregnant female was the subject of an act of forcible rape or, if a minor, an act of incest."

By the time the bill made it to the House floor, though, the text had been modified to "if the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest."

Still, Democrats were running with the lose connection between the congressmen as two of many co-sponsors on bill language that didn't even exist by the final vote.

"Those condemnations, they ring pretty hollow," Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said of Republicans bearing down on Akin. "When so many of them, including Paul Ryan, who was Mitt Romney's choice to run for vice president, over 200 Republicans co-sponsored the policy that reflects Todd Akin's sentiment."