Will a Defiant Rep. Akin Burn the GOP's Campaign Hopes?
With the balance of the Senate in the 113th Congress precariously at stake, Republicans came down like a hammer today on the determination of Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) to stay in the race against Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).
The seat has been a pickup that the GOP is counting on. Akin was leading McCaskill by 11 points in the latest poll taken before the congressman's controversial comments about rape and pregnancy were aired.
“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," Akin said on a local TV station Sunday.
With the ensuing mainstream and social media eruption, perhaps one of the most telling reactions was the outcry from those who would serve with him in the Senate.
"Todd Akin’s statements are reprehensible and inexcusable. He should step aside today for the good of the nation," Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) tweeted.
"There is no place in our public discourse for this type of offensive thinking," Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) said in a statement. "Not only should he apologize, but I believe Rep. Akin's statement was so far out of bounds that he should resign the nomination for U.S. Senate in Missouri."
In his first media appearance since the furor began, Akin appeared via phone as the first guest on Mike Huckabee's radio show early this afternoon.
Clarifying that he meant "forcible" rape instead of "legitimate," and that he believes women do get pregnant from rape, Akin also expressed his intention to stay in the race.
"I don't know that I'm the only person in public office who's suffered from a foot-and-mouth disease here," he said. "This was a very serious error; on the other hand, there are so many good people in Missouri who nominated me."
"I'm not a quitter and my belief is we're going to take this thing forward," Akin said, adding that no one had directly called him and asked him to stand down.
Because, likely, they were waiting to see if he'd announce the move on his own.
National Republican Senatorial Campaign Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) rapidly issued a statement giving Akin one day to think about his decision. “Congressman Akin’s statements were wrong, offensive, and indefensible," the senator said. "I recognize that this is a difficult time for him, but over the next twenty-four hours, Congressman Akin should carefully consider what is best for him, his family, the Republican Party, and the values that he cares about and has fought for throughout his career in public service.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) followed with a statement calling Akin's remarks "totally inexcusable."
"What he said is just flat wrong in addition to being wildly offensive to any victim of sexual abuse," McConnell said. "Although Rep. Akin has apologized, I believe he should take time with his family to consider whether this statement will prevent him from effectively representing our party in this critical election.”
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney called Akin's "insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong" as well as "offensive," but did not call for him to bow out of the Senate race.
Pundits and Democrats also piled on, though not necessarily advocating that he drop out as National Review did in an editorial this afternoon.
"If I'm Akin, I stay in the race. He's running in a red and getting redder state, not Nevada or Delaware. He's still the favorite," tweeted the Daily Kos' Markos Moulitsas.
"If Todd Akin stays in, he'll be the Sharron Angle of this cycle. GOP will lose a seat we should win," tweeted former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.
"The views expressed were offensive. Rape is rape," President Obama said in a rare briefing with reporters today. "And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we're talking about doesn't make sense to the American people -- and certainly does not make sense to me."
But Akin seemed resolved to dig in. "This campaign is more than one TV interview," he said in a later radio interview with Sean Hannity. As rumors flew that he would drop out by early Tuesday evening, Akin told Hannity, "I was told a decision had to be made by 5 p.m. tomorrow." Then, the congressman reiterated his resolve to see the race through, saying the "people of Missouri are big enough to take a look at the overall package."
Hannity chided Akin to think of the good of the Republican Party. "I think there is one political reality that I think has to be faced by you and your campaign and that is that, you know, the reality here is that Democrats now have a ton of ammunition and they are now going to try to use these remarks to hurt everybody they can," he told the congressman.
Before going on air, Akin tweeted, "I am in this race to win. We need a conservative Senate. Help me defeat Claire by donating."
Republican Party sources told PJM that Akin has a plan in place to drop out, but whether or not he will actually do so is up in the air.
All in all, the "legitimate" storm seemed to stoke painful memories within the party of the "macaca" moment, when a racial epithet cost Republicans what should have been an easy re-election for Sen. George Allen in Virginia. (Allen is running again this year in a tight race against former Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine, but has so far remained gaffe-free.)
Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.) has been mum on the matter.
Not that Akin doesn't have a few supporters.
"I don’t know anything about the science or the legal implications of his statement. I do know politics, and I know gotcha politics when I see it," said Family Research Council Action PAC president Connie Mackey, adding "we support him fully and completely."
Still, the NRSC reportedly pulled funding for Akin's campaign, an aide told the Washington Post, and Politico reported that American Crossroads and its affiliated nonprofit Crossroads GPS canceled an ad buy on behalf of Akin. A few days before the interview aired, the NRSC touted Akin's run as one of four key Senate races, lauding him for "running strong after a competitive primary victory."
Even money from Akin's Takin Back America PAC proved too hot to handle, as Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), who's running against Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) for his seat, announced he'd be giving a $5,000 contribution from the PAC to a teen pregnancy center in Helena.
Despite the GOP quickly turning its back on Akin, Democrats gave no indication that they'll let the matter go regardless of whether Akin stays or goes -- especially as they look forward to reigniting the "war on women" meme for next week's Republican National Convention.
"Rep. Todd Akin’s statement is another manifestation of the total disregard and disrespect of women by Republican leaders," tweeted House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) wrapped her thoughts into a fundraising email: "We need to help Claire, who’s been a strong progressive voice in the Senate on behalf of women’s rights."
And Obama said that Akin's comments underscored "why we shouldn't have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making health care decisions on behalf of women."
"So although these particular comments have led Gov. Romney and other Republicans to distance themselves, I think the underlying notion that we should be making decisions on behalf of women for their health care decisions, or qualifying forceable rape versus non-forceable rape, I think those are broader issues, and that is a significant difference in approach between me and the other party," the president continued.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spearheaded what they said was one of their fastest-growing petitions -- not to remove Akin from the ballot, but to pull him off the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
The DNC tied Akin's comments to the GOP presidential ticket in a fundraising pitch: "Mitt Romney would 'get rid of' federal funding for Planned Parenthood, Paul Ryan co-sponsored a piece of legislation that would have narrowed the definition of rape, and now Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri claims there's a biological defense against pregnancy from 'legitimate rape.'"
"It's time for us to move forward—not back—on women's rights. Take a stand for women," tweeted chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).
And his opponent tried to hold on to Akin's spot on the ballot. "I think for Washington party insiders to come in and try to invalidate the votes of Missourians would be radical," McCaskill said in a phone interview with The Huffington Post. "I think that would be a very radical thing to have happen, and I can't imagine how the Republican primary voters would think about that in Missouri."
Akin was coming under fire not only for the rape comments, but for saying Friday that he thinks it’s time for a second look at federal “civil rights and voting rights” laws. His campaign responded with a statement that "Akin has, and always will, support the right to vote.”
The question is how much lasting damage Republicans will see from the Akin scandal. In the respect of turning the conversation from the economy back to the war on women, damage to the GOP has been done.
The defiant and determined congressman could even sully the GOP's hopes for the White House should Democrats turn out in droves to the polls in Missouri and wipe away Romney's slight polling advantage in the swing state.
Akin's race is pegged as one of nine toss-ups in the Senate battleground in which Republicans need to add four seats to their current membership to take control of the upper chamber.
Forty-two of the GOP seats are safe or not up for re-election, one is likely GOP, and one leans GOP, which means Republicans have to win seven of the toss-up races, according to the latest scoring of the races at Real Clear Politics. With 47 seats safe, not up, likely, or leaning Dem, Harry Reid's party needs just four of those toss-ups.
Asked by Huckabee if he'd be a dead weight on the GOP considering his nuclear error, Akin responded, "Nobody wants to own your mistake and I don't think anybody should."