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.
Akin will almost certainly lose. But his continued presence in the race will provide fodder for the Democrats to change the subject and keep the GOP candidates off message, not only at the presidential level, but in Senate and U.S. House races as well. This could last right through November.
There is an enormous gender gap this year, particularly among white voters -- over 30 points in some states. In a few battleground states, Romney is ahead by 2 to 1 among white males and trails among white females. The GOP convention will try to showcase Ann Romney in prime time in an attempt to soften Mitt Romney’s image and address this gender gap, and Condoleezza Rice will also get a speaking spot. But the Obama-supporting national media can be expected to shower the GOP hopefuls at every turn with questions about Todd Akin and the GOP platform on abortion, now an area for intense scrutiny. Anything that drives the deteriorating state of the economy and the evidence of a very weak recovery off the front pages is a blow to the Romney campaign. The Akin mess may haunt the Romney-Ryan ticket over the next ten weeks.
In the fight for Missouri’s 10 Electoral College votes, the race appears to have tightened a bit due to Akin. The average of the latest Rasmussen and Post-Dispatch polls shows Romney ahead by 3 points, where prior polls had Romney ahead by a larger margin. Not surprisingly, the same PPP poll that showed Akin ahead gave Romney a 10-point lead due to the oversampling of Republicans. That result provides as much useful information as the PPP poll in the Senate race -- zero.
The Romney-Ryan ticket got off to a fast start due to the energy of audiences that greeted them, Ryan’s youth, Romney’s more confident style on the stump, and the campaign’s pre-emptive strike on Medicare. Rather than play defense on Congressman Ryan’s plan for Medicare, the Romney campaign launched a tough public campaign, supported by new ads, arguing that Obama stole money from the Medicare program ($716 billion over ten years) to fund a new entitlement for others (Obamacare). The money “saved” in Medicare can not be used both to extend the life of the Medicare program and also to fund Obamacare, despite the lies from the likes of Stephanie Cutter.
And no, the $716 billion in Medicare “savings” are not a result of cutting fraud, abuse, and waste. The fact is that 80% comes from cutting payments to providers, which will undoubtedly reduce the number of doctors and hospitals in the program. Like Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Cutter will say pretty much anything these days to convey that Republicans are evil, and Obama is wonderful, to raucous applause from fans on the left.
This will be an important week for Romney to change the subject back to the economy and introduce himself to the American people in an unfiltered fashion through his acceptance speech. There is a good chance Romney will come out of the convention with a bounce of some sort in the polls. The Democratic convention will likely provide a bounce-back for Obama, though he is not the fresh face this year as he was in 2008. In the final two months of the campaign, Romney’s chances will depend in part on sticking to the themes that make voters want to say "no" to a second Obama term. If Todd Akin cares about the outcome of the presidential race, he can do his part to help by recognizing the inevitable -- that he will lose, that he is a drag on the GOP ticket, and that he should drop out.