McCaskill Akin Polls: Why the Missouri Senate Race Is the One to Watch Next Tuesday

With less than a week until the elections, all eyes are on the presidential race. But there are some pretty important Senate and House races as well – races that may well determine the partisan makeup of the 113th Congress.

One of these is the Missouri Senate race between incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill (D) and challenger Congressman Todd Akin (R). This race has gotten plenty of national attention due to Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments. The Missouri Senate seat was supposed to be an easy pickup for the GOP, but Akin’s comments have given a huge advantage to McCaskill. Most recent polls show McCaskill up by 5 points.

McCaskill first won election to the Senate in 2006. (Disclaimer: I was an intern for the McCaskill campaign that year.) She known for being a moderate, touting her middle-of-the-road ranking as the National Journal's 50th most liberal (or 50th most conservative!) senator. McCaskill supports the death penalty, has opposed increased governmental regulation, and voted for the Keystone XL pipeline. She’s also been a key voice on governmental oversight: she chairs the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Contracting Oversight Committee, where she has probed the activities of government contractors. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, she has played a key role in the oversight of needed improvements at Arlington Cemetery.

McCaskill has also been a firm advocate for President Obama. She was among the first elected officials to endorse him, and voted for the stimulus bill and for health care reform. Personal issues that have affected her Senate campaign, like plane rides that she charged to her congressional account and certain dealings of her husband.

Todd Akin is currently the Congressman for Missouri’s 2nd congressional district, primarily consisting of St. Louis suburbs. The district is very Republican, and Akin himself is known as a conservative. This should have been a relatively easy race for Akin; although he was the preferred candidate of the McCaskill campaign, the senator’s job approval numbers should have made her an easy target regardless.

Then, in August, Akin stated that there are very few victims of “legitimate rape” who actually become pregnant, because apparently the body has ways of shutting that down. Although at the time he said this, many Republicans disavowed Akin and decided to stay out of the race, some members of the party have re-embraced Akin. The congressman is still receiving a lot of money from out-of-state conservative groups. Akin is also opposed to emergency contraception for victims of rape and incest and has compared federal student loans to stage 3 cancer.

These issues have led to a very tight race. Right now, it looks as if the race is a statistical dead heat. Real Clear Politics has McCaskill up by 4.2%, while Talking Points Memo has her up by 6.4%.

Why is the race still so tight? Missouri has gradually become a more Republican state; Mitt Romney is apparently ahead there by more than 13 points. Additionally, many Missourians may share Akin’s views, or at least do not care about his comments as much as they dislike Senator McCaskill.

All in all, this is going to be close until Election Day. We’ll have to see whether the presidential results will carry one candidate or another over, whether the libertarian candidate in the race, currently polling at around 4-6%, makes a dent, and whether Akin’s comments will ultimately be his doom.