Somehow, Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin might still win his race.
There are two parts to the angry debate launched by Akin's August 19 comments about "legitimate rape" and abortion. The first is the inevitable attempt to link the Missouri congressman's comments to Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, and to conservatives in general. The second is the uncomfortable fact that there are real and divisive differences between conservative and liberal views on abortion. Both issues carry huge repercussions for this year's elections as both sides desperately try to control the narrative while courting independents, young voters, and women.
Akin shocked voters last weekend when in response to an interviewer asking if abortion should be legal when a woman is raped, he said,: "First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare ... If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” This was one of the worst possible answers to an admittedly difficult question. According to the Washington Post, some studies posit a low probably of pregnancy after an assault rape, and this was likely the theory to which Akin referred. The unsubstantiated study cited in the most imprudent of language cast Akin as an unfeeling and ignorant boor who trivializes rape victims.
A chorus of Republicans including Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and numerous others have urged Akin to quit the race. Akin watched the deadline pass him by without withdrawing his name. While Akin had a solid lead over his Democratic opponent Claire McCaskill, 11 points ahead earlier this month, he still retains a one point lead as of Monday.
It is astonishing that he still retains this lead after the huge public outcry against him and his own party's withdrawal of support. Does he have any hope of winning this?
His fellow Republicans clearly don't think he can still win, as indicated by Paul Ryan's advice to "reflect on this and think about what is best for you, your family and things you believe in." Republicans are understandably nervous about the upcoming convention and consider Akin a liability to their cause as Obama leads 10 points over Romney for women voters. For one, Romney and Ryan have expressed acceptance of abortion in extreme cases of rape and incest, and they don't want to be identified with anything more stringent than that. Additionally, Akin's comments are distracting from real conversation because they seemed flippant. It's part of politics to know when you are distracting people from your own cause.
The fact that Akin is still leading by one point shows that many people (in a Republican-leaning state) basically accept that one foolish comment does not erase the basic agreement they may hold with Akin over his opponent. Though he may still draw some of the most conservative voters on election day, it will be nearly impossible for Akin to woo any additional voters to his side now that the Republican National Committee has withdrawn fundraising resources from the congressman's campaign.
It remains to be seen whether abortion will advance to the forefront of the presidential race. Countless articles, memes, and comments are circulating, casting Akin's comments as analogous to conservative, Republican, or Tea Party views. Many of these are harsh (see this meme, and this one), and attribute even more extreme opinions to Akin. The hate-fest against Akin circulating the internet helps those who already discard pro-life views to further discredit the movement. Though abortion has not been a key issue of the presidential campaign so far, it is perhaps one of the most polarizing issues. The key tenets of the pro-choice and pro-life movements present a clear dichotomy: either a fetus is a part of a woman's body, or a human being. Both cannot be true, and politics is an argument over which view will win. If conservatives hope to defend their stance on abortion, it will have to be done eloquently, compassionately, and persuasively to counteract the damage done by Akin's comments.