Despite the fact that he is trailing Democrat Claire McCaskill by about a five point margin in the polls, members of the GOP who fled from Republican Todd Akin are slowly beginning to return to the Missouri candidate’s aid. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have both come out this week in support of Akin. On Wednesday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a statement which seems to indicate that they might support Akin’s campaign financially, despite vowing not to do so a month ago. The Senate Conservatives Fund, a conservative PAC founded by Senator Jim DeMint from South Carolina, followed suit on Thursday.
NRSC executive director Rob Jesmer stated, “There is no question that for Missourians who believe we need to stop the reckless Washington spending, rein-in the role of government in people’s lives, and finally focus on growing jobs in this country, that Todd Akin is a far more preferable candidate than liberal Sen. Claire McCaskill.”
The SCF polled its supporters via email on Wednesday, after Akin announced he would definitively stay in the race, to see whether or not they should back the candidate. SCF supporters have, so far, pledged a total of $290,000 on Akin’s behalf, and are asking supporters to contribute $100,000 more by Sunday. If these efforts are successful, Akin should expect to make around $500,000 for his campaign.
As money starts trickling in to the Akin campaign, how will Claire McCaskill respond?
Political analyst Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political report told USA Today that she expects that McCaskill, who has yet to thoroughly attack Akin for his “legitimate rape” comments, will do so now that Akin can no longer exit the race. In contrast, Akin adviser Rick Tyler explained “Our strategy is to return this to a referendum on Claire McCaskill, and her strategy is to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
On Monday night, before Akin confirmed his bid, the McCaskill campaign began airing a new campaign ad, asking, “What will Todd Akin say next?”
Richard Martin, McCaskill’s 2006 campaign manager, forecasted, “She’ll point out that this wasn’t just a misstatement. It really is a reflection of where he is.” Indeed, in the candidates’ first debates, McCaskill said that his rape comments “opened the window to his views” which she described as “out of the mainstream.”
Akin countered by attacking McCaskill’s voting record on issues like health care reform, saying, “It’s really about two visions about what America is.”
He reiterated this argument on Wednesday, charging that McCaskill’s support of Obamacare means that the incumbent senator is out-of-touch with the wishes of mainstream Missouri. Republicans who have come out in support of Akin say much the same, arguing that the GOP needs Akin in the Senate to overturn such measures.
Democrats have argued that Todd Akin’s legitimate rape comments exposed the true nature of the Republican Party, particularly when it comes to issues of abortion rights, rape, and violence towards women. These social issues are closely linked to health care, particularly reproductive health care. As Irin Carmon argues at Salon, “either you believe a woman has the right to decide not to be pregnant anymore, or you think you should get a say in her decision.”
Similarly, either Todd Akin believes that women have the right to avoid pregnancy in the first place, or he doesn’t. Either he believes that women should have easier access to health care, including reproductive health care, or her doesn’t. And from all available evidence, he doesn’t. While the Missouri candidate may be confused about what contraception is and how it works (a common problem), he has made himself clear on the issue of health care – he wants to repeal Obamacare.
“Health care is ultimately about an individual’s freedom to make the best choices for themselves and their family without undue government interference. By regulating away personal responsibility we destroy this basic right first outlined in the Declaration of Independence.”
It’s already been pointed out that using freedom-of-choice rhetoric to advocate against health care choices is hypocritical. It’s also already been pointed out (by none other than Mitt Romney) that Akin’s remarks are ill-informed, offensive and unacceptable, no matter what heart he holds. But what we are seeing in the Akin-McCaskill race is what we are seeing on a national level (and no, I just don’t mean the war on women.) What we are seeing is what Akin describes as two different visions of what America is, and what the role of the federal government in America should be.
The senate race in Missouri is not ultimately about mainstream Missouri, at least not to the GOP. (Or, if it is, it's about 'mainstream America' as exemplified in Missouri.) Akin’s supporters emphasize that his race matters because Romney winning matters, because Republican control of the Senate matters, because the GOP wants to push its most conservative agenda in years at the federal level and at the state level.
Newt Gingrich put it best. “How many people are going to split their ticket and have a Romney-McCaskill ticket?”
Claire McCaskill is not avoiding making the Missouri senate race a referendum on her policies. She cannot avoid making the race a referendum on her policies and how her policies contrast with her opponent’s. In an incredibly polarized race, McCaskill will need to constantly remind her supporters that Akin’s views on rape are his views on other kinds of economic and social policies.
And she will likely need to energize Democratic and Obama supporters to come to her aid — after all, that’s what Republicans are doing for Akin.