Wild Race Causes Major GOP Rift

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A game of political chicken is playing out among the nation’s top Republicans and Missouri’s embattled GOP nominee for the Senate.

Will Rep. Todd Akin eventually cave to party leaders’ demands and drop his challenge to Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill? Or will the Republican establishment conclude that their effort to take control of the Senate is too important and reluctantly support him, despite his inflammatory remarks about rape and pregnancy?

Two weeks after the remarks, each side remains stubbornly insistent that the other should blink.

If Akin refuses to quit, and deep-pocketed Republicans refuse to finance him, “it’s pretty much a done deal that we have given this race to Claire McCaskill,” said Carol Thomas, one of many Missouri Republicans who backed Akin in an August primary but now bemoan the party’s predicament.

The GOP quandary is this: Party leaders no longer believe Akin can win, so they have abandoned him and vowed to pull millions of dollars of planned advertising. But Akin, who still thinks he can unseat McCaskill, will have a much harder time doing so without their help.

In an interview with conservative activists this past week at the Republican National Convention, party Chairman Reince Priebus remained firmly against Akin – even if Akin is locked in a close race as the Nov. 6 election draws near.

“He could be tied. We’re not going to send him a penny,” Priebus said in the videotaped interview that was publicized by Akin’s campaign.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee and the conservative Crossroads group have insisted they’re not bluffing about revoking the money for anti-McCaskill ads.

Akin has been equally firm in his commitment to stay in the race. He believes Republican leaders need to change their minds and says many voters are welcoming him back as he resumes campaigning.

“I’m sensing, as I’m on the road, a deep resentment of the people at the grassroots level of Missouri of being pushed aside and the party bosses wanting to appoint their own person,” Akin told The Associated Press. “There is an increasingly coalescing base of support for my race in Missouri.”

Public opinion polls have varied, with some showing Akin still roughly even with McCaskill and others indicating he now trails.

Missouri’s Senate race had been considered vital to the Republicans’ goal of picking up the four seats necessary to regain control of the Senate. But those chances diminished after Akin remarked in an interview that aired Aug. 19 on St. Louis television station KTVI that women’s bodies have ways of avoiding pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.” He repeatedly apologized, but many Republicans urged him to quit so the party could pick a replacement candidate.

“I think he’s selfish. If he cared about his party, I think he would have dropped out,” Thomas said.

Akin denies any selfish ambitions.

“This decision is not about me at all,” he told KTVI this past week. “America faces a choice of two entirely different futures. This is about our country, and doing the right thing for our county. And that has been the only thing that I’ve considered.”

Stephen Nowels, a member of the Republican committee in St. Louis, said he will probably leave the Senate box blank or vote for a third-party candidate because of Akin’s comments.

“Voters tend to forget stuff,” said Nowels, who runs a violin store. But “I don’t think they’re going to forget this one.”

As Election Day approaches, it’s more likely that Republican powerbrokers will give in than it is that Akin will budge, said longtime political scientist Richard Fulton, a professor at Northwest Missouri State University.

If Akin is within 5 percentage points in the polls in October, “I think the big-money conservative PACS will find a way to get him some money,” Fulton said.

But if top Republicans want to double-down on their opposition to Akin, there is another alternative. Missouri law allows write-in candidates to file for office until Oct. 26. That possibility gained steam last weekend when Republican strategist Mary Matalin suggested the GOP could field former state party Chairwoman Ann Wagner as a Senate write-in candidate.

Waging a write-in campaign would require Wagner to drop her bid to succeed Akin in his suburban St. Louis district, something that Wagner’s campaign manager flatly rejected.

Missouri law prohibits the losers of party primaries from later filing as write-in candidates for the same office. That means the Republican candidates who lost to Akin last month can’t resume their campaigns.

Saint Louis University political scientist Ken Warren said it is “virtually impossible” for write-in candidates to win. Strom Thurmond did it in South Carolina in 1954. But since then, only one Senate candidate has done so: Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski won re-election as a write-in two years ago after losing in the Republican primary.

A write-in campaign would also carry a distinct risk: In a three-way Senate race, another Republican could split the vote with Akin, allowing for an easy McCaskill win, Warren said.

___

Associated Press Writer Jim Salter contributed to this report from St. Louis.

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...

  • Gov. Jan Brewer (R-Ariz.)

    “Well, I thought his comments were a little bit outrageous,” she a href=”http://www.kjzz.org/content/1208/gov-brewer-akin-comments-little-bit-outrageous-doesnt-call-candidate-drop-out-race” target=”_hplink”told KJZZ’s Mark Brodie/a. “I’m not in a position to [decide] whether it’s right for the party to pull funding, I mean, those people there raise the money, they get to spend it however they wish.”

  • Mitt Romney

    “As I said yesterday, Todd Akin’s comments were offensive and wrong and he should very seriously consider what course would be in the best interest of our country,” said Romney in a statement. “Today, his fellow Missourians urged him to step aside, and I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race.”

    Earlier, from an a href=”http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/314452/romney-akins-inexcusable-comment-robert-costa” target=”_hplink”interview with the National Review/a:

    blockquote”Congressman’s Akin comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong,” Romney said. “Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive.”/blockquote

  • Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.)

    “He should be ashamed of himself to be talking about it in that way,” Christie said. “It’s stunning to me that somebody who’s offering themselves for high office like that would have those kind of thoughts and use that kind of language.”

  • Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.)

    From a href=”http://mountpleasant.patch.com/articles/gov-scott-walker-says-missouri-senate-candidate-todd-akin-should-get-out” target=”_hplink”Patch/a:

    blockquoteGov. Scott Walker said Tuesday that Republican Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin should drop out of the race after Akin made controversial comments about rape and pregnancy.

    “Yes, he should step down. Those comments were ignorant at best and outrageous,” Walker said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Sturtevant./blockquote

  • Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-Va.)

    “He’s got to seriously decide what’s in the best interest of the party, what’s in the best interest of the state of Missouri, and frankly, at this point, given that flat wrong statement, whether he can win,” McDonnell a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/21/bob-mcdonnell-todd-akin_n_1818906.html?1345568504″ target=”_hplink”told The Huffington Post/a.

    “I think there was a belief a month ago, when it was just he and [incumbent Sen. Claire] McCaskill head to head after he got the nomination, that it would be a hard-fought competitive race, with Romney at the top of the ticket and up double digits, that this would be a race that would be winnable for the Republicans,” McDonnell said. “To say things that seemed to be so flat wrong and out of touch with both science and the people, I think it makes it very difficult at this point for him to win.”

  • NRSC Chair Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)

  • Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)

    “It is beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape … The ideas that Todd Akin has expressed about the serious crime of rape and the impact on its victims are offensive.”

  • Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan Campaign

    “Gov. Romney and Congressman (Paul) Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape,” Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said.

    “Congressman’s Akin comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong,” a href=”http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/314452/romney-akins-inexcusable-comment-robert-costa” target=”_hplink”Romney said/a. “Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive.”

  • Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

    “What he said is just flat wrong in addition to being wildly offensive to any victim of sexual abuse. Although Representative Akin has apologized, I believe he should take time with his family to consider whether this statement will prevent him from effectively representing our party in this critical election,” said McConnell, according to the a href=”http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-pn-mcconnell-suggests-todd-akin-consider-his-options-20120820,0,5243455.story” target=”_hplink”emLos Angeles Times/em/a.

  • Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)

  • Elizabeth Warren

  • Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)

    “As a husband and father of two young women, I found a href=”http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entry/scott-brown-calls-for-todd-akin-to-drop” target=”_hplink”Todd Akin’s comments/a about women and rape outrageous, inappropriate and wrong. There is no place in our public discourse for this type of offensive thinking. Not only should he apologize, but I believe Rep. Akin’s statement was so far out of bounds that he should resign the nomination for US Senate in Missouri.”

  • Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)

    “Whether he has mispoken or whether he has a position that we would have trouble agreeing on, I don’t know that. I do know him and I do know his family, and I’m impressed with what they’ve accomplished. So that’s the best I can do with what little bit I know,” a href=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDsQkjnQx5Yfeature=youtu.be” target=”_hplink”said King/a.

    And later:

    “I just haven’t heard of that being a circumstance that’s been brought to me in any personal way,” he a href=”http://www.kmeg14.com/story/19324372/rep-steve-king-on-the-campaign-trail” target=”_hplink”told KMEG/a. “I’d be open to hearing discussion about that subject matter.”

  • Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.)

  • Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)

    “I have to agree with those, including Republicans, who have said he should give up his race for Senate,” said Van Hollen on a href=”http://video.msnbc.msn.com/newsnation/48728017/#48728017″ target=”_hplink”NewsNation with Tamron Hall/a.

  • Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.)

    “Like Joe Biden’s comments last week, I find Todd Akin’s comments made Sunday to be just as outrageous and offensive. Such insulting and offensive remarks from Joe Biden and Todd Akin have no place in our political discourse,” said Mack in a a href=”http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2012/08/connie-mack-cosponsor-of-forcible-rape-bill-links-akins-legitimate-rape-with-bidens-chains-.html” target=”_hplink”press release/a.

  • Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)

  • Cindy McCain

  • Former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.)

    Talent, who once held the Senate seat Akin is running for, declined to endorse Akin on Monday.

    “It’s a decision he has to make,” Talent said when asked whether Akin should step aside, according to the a href=”http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-pn-todd-akin-stay-in-senate-race-20120820,0,2849040.story” target=”_hplink”emLos Angeles Times/em/a.

    “I can’t agree with anything [Akin] said,” Talent later clarified.

  • Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.)

    “Now, Akin’s choice of words isn’t the real issue here. The a href=”http://www.politico.com/blogs/burns-haberman/2012/08/dnc-email-ties-romney-to-todd-akin-132522.html” target=”_hplink”real issue/a is a Republican party — led by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan — whose policies on women and their health are dangerously wrong.

    I’m outraged at the Republicans trying to take women back to the dark ages — if you agree, join me in taking a stand for women.

    Really, it’s deeply concerning that Republicans continue to support legislation that is, quite literally, dangerous for women.

    Mitt Romney famously says he would “get rid of” federal funding for Planned Parenthood if he had the chance. His running mate, Paul Ryan, was one of more than 200 Republican cosponsors of a piece of legislation that would have narrowed the definition of rape.

    Can you imagine — the same Republican House that refuses to pass a jobs bill jumped at the opportunity to make life harder for victims of rape?

    And what do Romney and Ryan think of Akin’s latest statement? They’ve been trying to distance themselves from it — but Congressman Ryan has already partnered with Akin on a whole host of issues that restrict women’s ability to make their own health care decisions.”

  • Sarah Steelman, Akin’s Former Primary Opponent

  • Meghan McCain

  • Terry O’Neill, President Of The National Organization For Women

    “That kind of rhetoric re-traumatizes sexual assault victims. … That kind of talk, I believe, is intended to shame women,” she told the a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/20/todd-akin-rape-comments_n_1810362.html?1345468189″ target=”_hplink”Associated Press radio/a, characterizing the remarks as “flat-out astonishing.”

  • Mike Murphy, GOP Consultant

  • Michelle Malkin, Conservative Columnist

  • Joe Scarborough, Host Of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”

    “There is a rule,” a href=”http://www.mediaite.com/tv/scarborough-reacts-to-akins-rape-remark-conservatives-neglecting-to-choose-the-most-electable-candidate/” target=”_hplink”he [Scarborough] continued/a, “that we conservatives have followed for a long time, and it’s the ‘Bill Buckley Rule.’ You elect the most electable conservative. The person who is the most conservative and who is the most electable is the one you put on the ticket. That’s the part of the equation that we’re losing over the last three years. And it’s making Harry Reid the majority leader.”

  • Bryan Fischer, Conservative Radio Host

  • Tom Perriello, President Of Center For American Progress Action Fund

  • Petition By The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

    blockquotea href=”http://dccc.org/pages/denounce-todd-akin?source=2012.08.20_kw_all” target=”_hplink”Sign your name to call/a on Speaker John Boehner to remove Rep. Todd Akin from the House Science and Technology Committee.

    Republican Congressman Todd Akin told a Missouri news station:

    “First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare… If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

    Someone who believes nonsense like this has no part overseeing science policy.

    Tell Speaker Boehner to immediately remove Rep. Akin from the House Science and Technology Committee./blockquote

  • Susan B. Anthony List

    blockquote”Congressman Akin, a longtime pro-life leader, has said he had misspoken, and no one is arguing that rape is anything but a despicable, horrible crime.

    “Abortion supporters like Sen. Claire McCaskill are trying to use this issue as a smokescreen to hide from their radical, pro-abortion records that are out of step with the majority of Missourians and the American people. On the issues of taxpayer funding of elective abortion in Obamacare, protection of unborn girls being targeted in the womb solely because of their gender, and whether children capable of feeling pain in the womb should be protected, President Obama and Senator McCaskill have been on the wrong side, showing that they favor abortion on-demand, for any reason, up to the moment of birth, subsidized by the taxpayers.

    “If President Obama and Senator McCaskill care to focus on extreme positions, it is time for self reflection. It is time to answer the question why this president has recently rejected bans on gender selection and late term abortions.

    “Todd Akin, on the other hand, has a record of voting to protect human life. His opponent does not. Congressman Akin has been an excellent partner in the fight for the unborn.”/blockquote

  • Tea Party Express

    a href=”http://www.teapartyexpress.org/5205/tea-party-express-urges-rep-akin-to-step-down” target=”_hplink”Tea Party Express/a, the nation’s largest tea party political action committee, is urging Congressman Todd Akin to resign his candidacy for the U.S. Senate.

    Tea Party Express Chairman Amy Kremer said, “Congressman Akin’s comments this weekend are not just unfortunate and inappropriate, but they are distracting from our main goal of defeating Claire McCaskill and taking the Senate gavel out of the hands of Harry Reid. At a time when our national debt is approaching $16 trillion, job growth is stagnate, and the Senate has failed to pass a budget in over 3 years, we need a candidate that is ready to help lead the charge for conservative solutions.

    “One of the lessons we learned in 2010 is that we need candidates who are not only conservative, but are capable of putting together a strong campaign against liberal opponents. Akin’s frequent ‘Bidenisms’ are distracting from the important issues at hand.

    “It is critical that we defeat Senator Claire McCaskill in November, but it will be too difficult to achieve that with Todd Akin as the conservative alternative. He should step down and give conservatives a chance at taking back the Senate in November,” Kremer concluded.