Todd Akin and Claire McCaskill meet Thursday in their second debate of the Missouri Senate race, a contest which one prominent political observer in the Show Me State says is “too close to call.”
That’s despite a raft of ads focusing attention on Akin’s “legitimate rape” remarks and what Democrats say are a host of other extreme positions. For its part, McCaskill’s campaign says its ads are working but say the first-term senator is “working like she’s running 10 points behind.”
Dr. George Connor, head of the political science department at Missouri State University and professor of state politics, says that’s probably a good plan. Voters in Missouri just don’t like President Obama, he said, and McCaskill’s past closeness to him still costs her dearly, despite her attempts to put distance between herself and the president.
“McCaskill would have been behind before the ‘legitimate rape’ comments. Basically what those comments and the comments since have done is level the playing field,” Connor said, referring to the week of bad press Akin earned with his attacks on McCaskill for not being “ladylike” in the first debate and his comparison of the senator to
Those comments may have hurt Akin with educated Republican women in the suburbs, but Connor said it was impossible to know they’re true impact. The demographics don’t favor the Democrats, he said. That makes things unpredictable.
“I don’t know that the polls can accurately predict what’s going to happen at the election just yet,” he said. “It seems to me that this race is too close to call.”
In the past week, Akin supporters have released internal polling showing the Republican ahead by four points, while McCaskill’s campaign released its own internal numbers showing the Democrat leading by nine. The PollTracker Average, which includes the internal numbers, shows McCaskill leading by a margin of 48.8-42.4.
Akin has enjoyed a surge in national Republican support since the first time he met McCaskill on a debate stage last month. Social conservatives has been sticking by his side already despite the controversies, and they have now been joined by other conservative groups like the NRA and more fiscally-focused conservatives like Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). The NRSC has stayed on the sidelines, but nevertheless the promised Republican freeze-out of Akin following “legitimate rape” is a thing of the past. Akin’s campaign has used the influx of cash to attack McCaskill as corrupt.
An Akin adviser did not respond to a request for comment on the state of the race before the debate.
Team McCaskill has hammered Akin with his social views, launching a set of powerful TV ads featuring victims of sexual assault calling Akin out. It seems clear that Democrats think “legitimate rape” could get them the win — Democratic super PAC American Bridge is filling mailboxes in Missouri with mailers that play audio of the “legitimate rape” comment.
The McCaskill campaign says it has successfully portrayed Akin as from a dangerous fringe.
“We feel confident that Missourians have realized Todd Akin’s positions on a whole host of issues — Medicare, Social Security, student loans, school lunches and the minimum wage — are just too extreme,” McCaskill campaign spokesperson Caitlin Legacki told TPM.
Thursday’s debate will give them another chance to make their case. But Connor says it’s not likely to have a huge impact on the race. Unless Akin — or McCaskill for that matter — says something viral like “legitimate rape” again.
“If there’s something that comes out in one of these debates that can be YouTubeable … that’s the only way the debate between Congressman Akin and Sen. McCaskill will have any impact,” he said. “They’re talking to people who are already supporting them.”
The debate kicks off at 8 ET. Streaming coverage by KDSK-TV here.