The National Republican Senatorial Committee has opened the door to getting back in the Missouri Senate race after weeks of insisting it was finished with Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.).
NRSC executive director Rob Jesmer on Wednesday said the committee would keep close tabs on the race, and hinted it might reverse its decision to abandon its nominee.
“There is no question that for Missourians who believe we need to stop the reckless Washington spending, rein-in the role of government in people’s lives, and finally focus on growing jobs in this country that Todd Akin is a far more preferable candidate than liberal Sen. Claire McCaskill,” he said in a statement. “As with every Republican Senate candidate, we hope Todd Akin wins in November and we will continue to monitor this race closely in the days ahead.”
But five weeks later Romney is struggling in the polls and some GOP senators think he might imperil their chances of recapturing the majority in the upper chamber. That, combined with tougher than expected contests in red states such as Indiana, Montana and North Dakota, along with President Obama’s strong poll numbers in Ohio and Virginia, has raised the stakes in the Missouri race.
McCaskill was considered one of the most vulnerable senators until Akin made his controversial comment. Polls since then have shown her leading in the race, but the margin has been growing tighter.
“This is a case where Republicans are getting desperate. The Senate could very well turn on a single seat,” said Steven S. Smith, a professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis.
Smith said Republicans have an "outside chance" of winning the Senate majority.
"Quite a few things have to break their way," he said.
Some Republicans such as Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) think Akin has a better chance of winning in Missouri than do Republican candidates in liberal-leaning Maine and Connecticut. DeMint endorsed Akin on Wednesday and is likely to put the weight of his political action committee, the Senate Conservatives Fund, behind the lawmaker.
NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) is in a tough spot over what to do next.
When Akin stayed in, the NRSC disavowed him and said it would not spend money on the contest. But their statement on Wednesday did not rule out putting funds into the race.
And Cornyn told The Hill last week, when asked about Akin: "We're done."
If Cornyn sticks to his plan of staying out of Missouri and the result ends up being close, he will be criticized for having let a GOP pick-up slip through his fingers. But there are significant obstacles to the NRSC jumping back in the contest.
“It’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” said a Republican strategist.
Reversing course in Missouri would be costly for the GOP campaign arm, which trails the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in cash on hand. Because the NRSC canceled its reserved airtime in the state, it could have to pay a premium to reclaim airtime that has already been sold to other advertisers.
“They canceled all of their buys. They could pay almost double what they would have paid for earlier in the year and they don’t have that much money,” said a Democratic source who tracks media buys.
A regional sales manager at one of the network affiliates in St. Louis said the fall advertising schedule is very tight. That means if the NRSC wanted to spend money to support Akin, it would likely have to pay a premium to preempt advertisers who have already bought airtime.
Otherwise, NRSC ads could be relegated to non-prime viewing hours.
The NRSC reported $28.9 million in cash on hand at the end of August, while the DSCC reported $30.8 million.
Another potential liability is that Democrats will try to wield any help the NRSC gives Akin to bash other GOP candidates.
DSCC Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) slammed the NRSC Wednesday for voicing even mild support for Akin.
“The statement by national Republicans in support of Todd Akin is absolutely shameful. All Republican candidates across the country are now going to have to answer for their party's support of Akin,” she said in a statement.
“Their decision to support Akin should leave zero doubt in anyone’s mind that the Republican Party and the candidates they support are downright dangerous for women.”
Some Republicans fear putting money into Missouri could prove a costly investment in a losing battle. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who is running to chair the NRSC in the 2014 cycle, said Democrats would likely wage an all-out advertising blitz against Akin once the deadline had passed for him to withdraw from the ballot.
His prediction proved prescient when McCaskill began airing a new statewide ad this week hitting Akin for his rape comment, the first time she has done so on television.
Akin will be heavily reliant on outside groups to keep pace with McCaskill, who has a much larger war chest, in the air wars. The pressure from establishment Republican leaders to drop out of the race dried up much of his fundraising.
McCaskill reported $3.5 million in cash on hand as of mid July, while Akin reported $532,000.
Freedom’s Defense Fund, a conservative political committee, has announced plans to spend $250,000 on cable TV and radio advertising to support Akin. Newt Gingrich joined Akin for a fundraiser in St. Louis on Monday.