Todd Akin may be exiled from Tampa, but Republicans gathered for the national convention still can’t shake his shadow.
The Republican establishment moved to oust the controversial congressman from his Senate race, but social conservatives have increasingly been lining up behind him. Mike Huckabee, who spoke at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night, is Akin’s most vocal, high-profile supporter.
Rick Tyler, a longtime Newt Gingrich aide, just joined Team Akin as a top adviser. And the Susan B. Anthony List, one of many groups in the anti-abortion movement who backed Akin, is rallying in Tampa Thursday on an anti-abortion call to arms.
It all goes to show that the Akin controversy is part of a larger fault line within the GOP, in which one side wants to refocus on the economy while the other still sees social, wedge issues as key.
To the dismay of some Republican strategists, SBA List, which is dedicated to electing anti-abortion candidates, launched a new anti-abortion ad in Missouri this week despite Republicans’ attempts to put the abortion debate behind them.
The ad features a woman who claims she “survived” a “failed abortion” and accuses President Obama of voting against bills in the Illinois state Senate that would have protected children like her. This claim has surfaced before and has been debunked by fact-checkers.
GOP strategists said they didn’t think abortion was the best way to get out Republicans’ message.
“I am surprised they are running it here,” James Harris, a Republican consultant in Missouri told TPM. “It is a good, emotional ad, but other issues are more important to voters. Every day that we are discussing abortion as opposed to the failing economy or massive federal debt is a bad day for Republicans.”
Another Republican consultant said such efforts were a waste of time.
“Republicans have been trying to get back on message since Todd Akin made his infamous statement,” Marcus Dell’Artino, an Arizona strategist who worked on the McCain campaign, told TPM in an email. “If outside groups and organizations want to help Mitt Romney, they should focus their efforts on the issue of jobs and the economy, where there is an abundance of voters to gain. … There is a country full of voters who may change their mind on the issue of jobs and the economy.”
“The RNC convention is focused on the message of jobs and the economy,” he said. ”That should give someone a clue on what message you might want to use to sway voters.”
But Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of SBA List, said she isn’t out to sway voters undecided voters — she believes her job is to shore up the GOP base.
“You have to be able to excite and ignite and pull together your entire base first, and then start reaching out to swing voters,” Dannenfelser told TPM. With health care reform, which Dannenfelser believes opens the door to taxpayer-funded abortions, “Obama has created a natural coalition of social and economic conservatives that have been working better than I’ve seen in recent years together … coalitions are the building blocks of successful elections.”
Dannenfelser dismissed those who find her group’s message unhelpful, chalking some of their objections to the fact that male political strategists just aren’t comfortable talking about abortion.
“I hear it all the time,” she said. “When folks say that, they are thinking, the ‘A’ word is scary.’ And it’s that level of analysis. I mean, even the smartest of political analysts feel that way because getting close to it — especially if you’re a man who’s a political operative — doesn’t feel good. And so it keeps the mind off the political data.” The numbers, Dannenfelser argued, show that a majority of Americans agree with SBA List’s anti-abortion position.
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.