Missouri Breaks: The Akin Effect

The GOP convention begins on Monday, and the momentum that the Romney-Ryan campaign seemed to be building after the VP rollout seems to have faded a bit. The two-daily tracking polls -- Rasmussen and Gallup, which had shown a small Romney lead of 2 points for several days -- now indicate that the race is even (Gallup) or that Obama is up 1 (Rasmussen).

State polling has been a mixed bag, but Obama’s numbers were a bit stronger at the end of this week than at the end of last week in several battleground states such as Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. The poll movement has not been dramatic, but it suggests that there is continuing fallout that is damaging the GOP brand from the incredibly stupid remarks by Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin last Sunday. The Ohio and Florida results are from Quinnipiac, now in a joint venture with CBS and the New York Times for its state surveys. As in the prior surveys by this outfit in these states, they appear to have oversampled Democrats (e.g., 8% more Democrats in Ohio).

It is possible that Akin’s  destructive decision to stay in the race may be due to a propaganda poll conducted by the left-leaning group PPP that was released on Tuesday, August 20, the last day Akin could have removed himself from the race without any court order or possible interference by others. The PPP poll comically intones that the results -- Akin +1 over Claire McCaskill -- were identical to the results of its earlier poll in May, which also showed Akin +1 at a time before Akin had received the nomination of his party. PPP neglects, of course, to reveal that in its prior poll there were 2% more Democrats sampled than Republicans and that in the new version released on August 20 there were 9% more Republicans than Democrats. If Akin were up by the same amount in both polls, but in the later poll only because of a significant shift  to a much larger number of Republicans in the mix of those interviewed, wouldn’t that be a sign of trouble for the candidate?  You would think so, but the poll says nothing about the changing mix of Democrats and Republicans in the survey. Instead, there is this revealing comment:

'Todd Akin still has a very decent chance at winning the Missouri Senate race,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. “Voters were appalled by his comments about abortion, but not so much that they decided to vote Democratic when they were previously planning to support the GOP. This looks like it will be a closely contested race if Akin stays in."

In other words: Please stay in the race, Todd. We (the Democrats and PPP) need you.

Two polls conducted later in the week, by Rasmussen and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Mason-Dixon, showed Democratic candidate McCaskill well ahead by 10% and 9%.  The senator long considered  the most endangered incumbent in this cycle is now cruising to victory.

Todd Akin, however, had the one poll he could hang onto to justify staying in the race. And he had the backing of the leaders of the social conservative movement -- Mike Huckabee and Tony Perkins, the latter of the Family Research Council. This is just one more grievance to add to their collection of perceived slights directed at social conservatives by the GOP establishment, which they alleged was ganging up on poor Todd Akin. After all, “he had just made a mistake in one sentence" and then apologized. In his new ads, Akin wants voters to know that he really thinks rape is a bad thing.

In reality, this was not some small-bore gaffe, the kind of thing Joe Biden commits every time he speaks. Akin used an obnoxious characterization of rape, “legitimate” (as opposed to illegitimate rape?), and then tossed in some junk science about how the female body allegedly “shuts this stuff down” to avoid pregnancy after the rape occurs. There was a callousness to the comment, in addition to the ignorance.