“Well, let me say this is not about me, this is not about my ego.”
-- Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., in an appearance on “Today” explaining to NBC’s Matt Lauer why the six-term congressman from suburban St. Louis refused calls from across the Republican Party to drop his bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
Rep. Todd Akin has a broad definition of the terms “liberal media,” “liberal elite” and “party bosses,” the folks he says are trying to force him from the race for Senate in the Show Me State.
The liberal media apparently includes Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter while the elites and party bosses apparently includes Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Express.
While attacks from the left can often help conservative Republicans anneal their base support in times of crisis, Akin’s decision to deny his party a do-over on the election following his Sunday comments about how the victims of “legitimate” rape have natural defenses to prevent pregnancy was stunning even to the staunchest pro-life supporters.
Even if one believes that Akin is getting a raw deal and that a biased press is hyping his comments beyond proportion, it doesn’t change the reality of the race in which the most important voting bloc looks to be suburban women from St. Louis and Kansas City.
The most telling moment on Tuesday as the clock ticked down to the 6 pm EDT deadline for Akin to withdraw without penalty came when the statements from the congressman and his Democratic opponent were nearly indecipherable.
"I think what is startling to me is that these party bigwigs are coming down on him and saying that he needs to kick sand in the face of the Republican primary voters," McCaskill said in a statement urging her foe to stay in the race.
Whatever Aiken has come to believe about the female reproductive system since his fateful Sunday interview, McCaskill knows that having an opponent who is a 65-year-old man, who until Monday believed in natural defenses against “legitimate” rape is a boon beyond imagining for the formerly doomed incumbent.
Had Akin stood silent throughout the campaign – entirely silent – he would have still likely beat McCaskill. Missouri is trending heavily against Obama, McCaskill has been plagued with negative press and was facing an onslaught of campaign spending against her.
The race is now at best a toss-up and without the money from the “elite” and “party bosses” who were going to fund the attacks on McCaskill, Akin looks like he’s headed for a stinging defeat.
But the issue here is much larger than one Senate race in Missouri. At stake are the control of the Senate and the fate of Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy.
It’s not just Missouri where the elections rest in the hands of moderate, suburban moms. It’s every swing state. And while conservatives have been winning the long fight for public sentiment on abortion, these voters are very sensitive to any suggestions of extremism or sexism when it comes to issues of life.
Establishment press outlets will be lavishly covering Akin and everything he does from now until Election Day. Every stumble, every debate, every interview will be another chance to pose the question that dominated Tuesday’s coverage: How do Akin’s views on abortion compare to the rest of his party’s.
Akin’s every utterance will be cause for Democrats to tie him to Romney and his House colleague Ryan – to suggest that the opposition to abortion is based not in the respect for human life but in a backwards, patriarchal desire to control women.
Science has helped pro-lifers immensely as sonograms have revealed the humanity of the unborn. Akin’s scientific misunderstanding can be used to undercut some of those gains. And it can certainly be used to reinforce the Obama campaign’s claim that Romney and Ryan are part of a so-called “war on women.”
Republicans need four seats to take over the Senate, three if Paul Ryan becomes vice president and holds the tie-breaking vote in a 50-50 chamber. It once looked certain that the GOP could do it. But even before Akin’s lesson on physiology, the chances for a GOP takeover had narrowed considerably.
There are seven Democrat-held seats that are very much in play: Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Virginia, Florida and Nebraska. There are some others that might come into play, particularly Ohio and Michigan, depending on the national political climate.
Republicans have three seats in play: Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada. While Nevada is looking good for the GOP and Scott Brown seems to be holding his own in Massachusetts, Maine looks like a GOP loss.
That means Republicans would have to win five Democrat seats, and with Akin’s decision to stay in the race, it means winning not just on favorable turf like North Dakota, Nebraska and Montana, but winning in brutal swing-state battles in Florida, Virginia and Wisconsin.
If Missouri were to fall off the table for the GOP, Republicans would have to win six of seven toss-up states. Not much margin for error.
Republicans seem set on making Akin a pariah in their party, but that’s a tough task with a sitting congressman on whom the press will lavish attention not seen since Christine O’Donnell declared herself “not a witch.”
And Now, A Word From Charles
“So summarize the campaign, it's Obama campaign saying, ‘Mitt Romney will lay off your dad, kill your mother with cancer, deny your sister contraceptives, throw your son out of college, and if you're African-American, put y'all in chains.’ They say, ‘Are we going negative? No, no, we are talking about issues. You know, he was talking about Dodd-Frank and implementation of regulations on Wall Street in talking about chains.’ This is preposterous.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.