Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) is showing signs of newfound strength on the campaign trail, making multiple new ad buys as polling shows him gaining on Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).
Akin and groups supporting him are making a $1.75 million investment in campaign ads this week, according to his campaign, allowing him to air a wider variety of ads than the incumbent senator for the first time in the entire race.
That influx of cash has wider implications than just Akin's campaign: His win in Missouri's Senate race would boost what are looking like slim chances for Republicans to take back the majority in the Senate.
He dropped in polling against McCaskill, who was considered one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators, and grumblings began among the GOP that Akin's decision could cost them the Senate.
But Akin persisted, running a scrappy campaign based on grassroots fundraising and an anti-establishment rallying cry that kept the candidate mostly stable in the polls.
Akin went from a low of 38 percent support in one poll, conducted in the days after his comments drew national scrutiny, to just a 2-percentage-point deficit in one independent poll released last weekend. One Republican internal poll has Akin and McCaskill tied.
Democrats dispute those polls, pointing out that the one putting him within the margin of error of McCaskill was conducted by the same pollster that predicted a third-place finish for Akin in the competitive GOP primary, which he eventually won.
McCaskill’s own internals have shown her ahead by double digits, and the RealClearPolitics average of polls still puts her up by 5 percentage points.
But the new polling is enough to have sparked an infusion of outside money on Akin’s behalf.
Over the past week, outside groups backing Akin have spent nearly double what’s been spent by outside groups for McCaskill, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics.
That includes the launch of a $1 million buy by the Now or Never PAC, a $550,000 buy by the Faith Family Freedom Fund and at least $100,000 in ads from America’s Liberty PAC, affiliated with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
Akin’s campaign also launched its own $600,000 buy on Thursday, which followed a nearly $700,000 joint buy from Akin and the Missouri Republican Party.
That expenditure raised eyebrows, as the state party didn’t have enough money to back its portion as of Oct. 17 — and the funds could have only come from a surge in donations over the past week and a half, or a transfer from the national party committees.
A spokesman for the Republican National Committee said the funds did not come from them, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee did not respond to requests for comment. If the money did come from them, it would be a reversal of their original decision to cut off their nominee and back up claims that Akin is competitive in the race.
Akin’s campaign says the challenger has a wider variety of ads on air than does McCaskill, though the incumbent senator has a higher volume of ads running, according to a Democratic source that tracks ad buys.
But a late infusion of cash can’t do much for a challenger down in the polls and facing an incumbent at 50 percent support or higher. Akin, however, might be facing the perfect political climate for the spending surge to take effect.
McCaskill, who returned to the campaign trail Wednesday following the death of her mother, has vastly outspent Akin for the majority of the election — her campaign spent $7 million in the third quarter alone, to Akin’s $1.3 million — but she's been unable to gain a double-digit lead on the challenger since the week after his comments broke.
And Mitt Romney has retained a solid lead over President Obama in the state, ahead by double digits in most surveys, an advantage that Missouri Republican strategist Jeff Roe says could be enough to boost Akin to a win on Election Day.
“This is a complete coattail effect,” he said.
“This isn’t exactly an independent decision [from Missouri voters]. If they’re going to send Romney to the White House, why wouldn’t they send a Republican senator to vote with him?”
The high number of undecideds at this point — 8 percent in the last poll — also makes the race ripe for a last-minute spending splurge taking effect.
Rick Tyler, Akin’s senior adviser, said they’re hoping the new investments will give Akin the platform to spread the message he’s been sharing with voters all along.
“This week, not only do we have a very strong message, we have the means to make sure that every Missouri voter has it,” he said.
The campaign is running four positive spots and one attack ad this week, which is part of what Tyler described as the campaign’s goal in the final stretch: “To make [Missouri voters] feel good about voting for Todd.”
McCaskill and Democrats have done all they can over the past two months to make it nearly impossible for Missouri voters to feel good about voting for Akin — running multiple negative ads based on his comments — but his support has stayed relatively stable since that initial drop.
And as Roe points out, that effort might have backfired — and might be part of what’s fueling the sudden support for Akin in the last days of his improbable campaign.
“At some point, the Republicans just saw their guy getting his teeth kicked in over nothing, and they just kind of started saying, ‘He might be a son of a b---h, but he’s our son of a b---h,” he said.