By Markos Moulitsas - 10/02/12 11:42 PM EDT
When Republican Party and conservative leaders applied pressure on Rep. Todd Akin (R) to step aside in the Missouri Senate race a month ago, they solemnly promised that he wouldn’t see a dime of their money. Under fire for extreme ignorance about how lady parts work (no, a woman’s uterus cannot magically block sperm from “legitimate” rapes), Akin discussed matters with his god and decided that as long as the race remained close, the money would appear like manna in the desert.
And why not? Democrat Claire McCaskill is among the least popular senators in the nation in a state trending so conservative that the once-presidential battleground was ceded early to the GOP. So while Akin has managed to turn an easy victory into a hotly contested battle, he’s still very much in contention. At 27 percent, Missouri has one of the largest populations of white evangelicals — a key Akin constituency and one that cheered on his rape remarks. It’s also one of the older and whiter states, presenting demographic challenges for McCaskill.
So even though polling in the race swung from a guaranteed Republican pickup to a slight McCaskill advantage, Akin remains competitive. He smartly reasoned that he could weather the storm, and shrewdly bet that Republican money czars would eventually reassess their promises to stay away if the Senate majority hinged on the seat.
The final ballot deadline passed Sept. 25, and it wasn’t long after that conservative groups started rethinking matters.
Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) Senate Conservative Fund is sending $300,000 to Akin. Home-state Sen. Roy Blunt (R), who had called on Akin to quit the race, suddenly embraced him: “I think at the end of the day, that race does largely become a debate about the majority in the Senate.” GOP Sens. DeMint, Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Tom Coburn (Okla.) and James Inhofe (Okla.) are hosting a fundraiser for Akin today in Washington. Meanwhile, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) endorsed Akin the day after the ballot deadline: “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.” The committee also hinted it might put money into the race if the situation warranted, promising to “monitor” the contest.
And while NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) backpedaled on Monday, saying he didn’t think it was a “winnable race,” the polling contradicts his pessimism. It certainly looks tighter, and in much more favorable terrain, than Maine or Massachusetts — both states in which the NRSC is engaged. But there’s another factor at play: Senate Republicans suddenly find themselves on the defensive — unexpectedly fighting to hold seats in Arizona, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine, while seeing their surefire pickups in North Dakota and Missouri turn into real dogfights.
Despite recent hopes of taking the Senate, Republicans now face the prospect of losing seats. And in that calculus, a damaged Akin currently rates low. For now.
Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com)