Todd Akin’s campaign is at a crossroads. Now that the deadline for him to drop out of the Missouri Senate race has passed, he needs to demonstrate to national Republicans, outside groups and donors that he can recover from his “legitimate rape” comments and beat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
That would appear to not be going so well.
When Akin said in remarks published Thursday that McCaskill did not act “ladylike” in their first debate, both Republicans and Democrats shook their heads. They may have slapped their foreheads when just a couple hours later, it was revealed that Akin’s referring to McCaskill as a “a wildcat out of the cage.”
If Akin really wants crucial support and resources for his campaign, Republican strategists told TPM, he just has to stop saying stuff like that. The NRSC on Wednesday opened the door to supporting Akin again, but on Friday — after Akin’s newest quotes hit the Internet — there were signs the NRSC is rethinking its rethinking.
NRSC chair John Cornyn (TX) told a Kentucky paper Friday that the group now has “no plans” to back Akin.
“I just think that this is not a winnable race,” Cornyn said. “We have to make tough calculations based on limited resources and where to allocate it, where it will have the best likelihood of electing a Republican senator.”
Other national Republican supporters Akin has won since the deadline for him to drop out the Missouri Senate race have so far not commented since “ladylike” and “wildcat” hit the scene.
If Akin wants to see that rethinking rethought once again, he needs to stop talking to the press, two Republican strategists told TPM. In fact, he needs to talk as little as possible at all.
“He doesn’t help himself when he — he has the weirdest analogies… He referred to [his rape comments] as a brouhaha. Like really? Brouhaha? I mean, he has weird mannerisms, weird analogies, that are all atrocious,” a Republican strategist in Missouri told TPM.
Akin needs to stay strictly on message, talking about McCaskill’s record, ‘Obamacare,’ and conservative economic principles. But “I don’t know if he has that ability,” the strategist said. “If he could just be disciplined in his comments, I think people want to defeat Claire McCaskill. People want to probably support [Akin], whether its financially or at the ballot box, but… without the financial resources from people in the state or other organizations that might be independent efforts, he will not win.”
Since polls remain tight, however, Republicans see a path to victory without any more off-script comments from Akin. “You know, if you’re that close with Claire McCaskill, then there are some ways to win this without ever having to be in public — or being public in controlled ways,” another Republican strategist who has worked on several Missouri campaigns said. “You wage a campaign without him physically being there, [with] television ads that are very tightly scripted, through mail pieces.”
“He’s an idiot, and everybody knows it,” the source continued. “But, he’s our idiot and he could be helpful to us but only if they get him under control.”
Akin’s “ladylike” comment was a blow to his ability to reassure donors and outside groups that he’s a good use of their time and money, as Cornyn’s fresh quote shows. But it’s also a blow to his electability among women voters. His comments just continue the hurt him among the “moderate female electorate and so I think he’s in a real bad position,” the Republican strategist said.
McCaskill, meanwhile, is banking on winning huge margins of women voters, Democratic strategist Roy Temple in Missouri told TPM. Women “constitute a significant share of the late-deciding voters” and as time goes by, women are seeing more and more evidence that “Todd Akin ought not be representing them in the Senate,” Temple said.
Democrats, like Republicans, note that while Akin’s latest fumble isn’t catastrophic, it’s at least ill-timed.
Jeff Smith, a former Democratic member of the Missouri State Senate and current professor at the New School in New York, wrote an op-ed in Politico Thursday explaining how Akin could still win after his “legitimate rape” comments. The column posted online just hours before Akin’s “ladylike” comment went viral.
Smith told TPM that Akin’s latest incendiary quote doesn’t change his perception of the race. The quote just isn’t enough to call off Republicans eager to pick up Senate control with a win in Missouri.
“Obviously he said this latest thing at an inopportune time because it reminds everybody that he’s a loose cannon and that anything could happen, and that there’s a decent chance that they’ll look stupid again,” he said. But Smith said that if polling continues to show the race close, “I think the demographic trends are going to be strong enough that unless he says something on the scale of ‘legitimate’ again, I think money’s going to find its way to Missouri.”
Evan McMorris-Santoro contributed to this story.
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.