Representative Todd Akin (R-MO) and the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate caused a stir on Sunday with some remarks on abortion and rape:
"It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child."
This was bound to happen. Before the Missouri primary, held August 7, and once after, I warned that Akin had a history of making news-worthy gaffes, so there probably would be at least one day during the general election campaign when some comment of his would dominate the airwaves.
I'm not sure what "legitimate rape" is supposed to mean, as opposed to what, "illegitimate rape?" There are certainly accusations of rape where the accused, such as the Duke lacrosse team and pro basketball player Kobe Bryant, are eventually exonerated. Or what director Roman Polanski committed, but which comedienne Whoopi Goldberg infamously denied was "'Rape' Rape." Regardless, what is certain is that Akin did not deny that pregnancy occurs from rape and he did not suggest that rapists should be let off.
This snafu is obviously a gift to the embattled incumbent senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) who has a stream of unpopular votes of support for the Obama agenda. But does it become a game-changer?
According to the latest polls, which obviously have not accounted for Akin's recent remarks, the Republican representative was leading McCaskill, most of them from by 3 to 11 points with a Real Clear Politics average of 5. New York Times stats guru Nate Silver thinks it may be enough for the polls to flip, but is waiting to see more data.
The "legitimate rape" comment is certainly embarrassing, will be lingering from the lips of talking heads, and becoming the centerpiece of The Case Against Todd Akin's Social Views, but Missourians are not voting on Akin's views on rape and abortion, which were already well-known. And Republicans, true to form, are content to let Akin twist in the wind, with most declaring the race over, and at least one on Twitter calling for Akin to step down as the nominee.
For the Missouri race to be determined by Akin's ill-advised remark assures a few things I'm not sure are true.
First, it means that the voters of Missouri are voting on social issues when the state's unemployment rate is 7.2% and rising. That means that the number of Republicans dejected enough to sit out is outweighed by the number of Democrats who had been considering sitting out but will now rise up to defend so-called abortion rights. What Akin, a Republican congressman who holds a seminary degree, did was affirm a very conservative view of abortion, something one might expect from a representative of the party that claims to represent the conservative voice of church-going Middle Americans. Republicans would be well-advised to remember that Akin did not come out for single-payer health care or the nationalization of property.
Plus, this also assumes that the narrative is utterly changed by comments made over seventy days before the election. Does it really go from a referendum on McCaskill's service and support of the Obama agenda to comments on rape and abortion that heretofore have not been part of the campaign?
Todd Akin may lose the election. Before the primary he produced the closest match-up between any of the competing Republicans and McCaskill - it's why McCaskill tried to step in and nudge the GOP primary electorate towards Akin.
Akin is far from a perfect candidate, and the gaffes are something that is part of the candidate's package. GOP primary voters knew this is what they were getting when they supported him over the political neophyte John Brunner and the one-term, Sarah Palin-endorsed state treasurer Sarah Steelman, so it seems strange that large numbers of them will abandon Akin over conservative comments.
Akin will need to commit more missteps and more gaffes to blow the whole election, but it is premature to dance on his political grave.