Talking Politics: Akin seeing what support he can get as deadline approaches

Aug 21, 2012

For KBIA’s Talking Politics, Ryan Famuliner sat down with Terry Smith, a regular contributor to the show, to talk about the fallout from Rep. Todd Akin’s comments regarding abortion and rape.

You can listen to the complete 13 minute conversation above, and a shorter version will air on Talking Politics this afternoon during All Things Considered (unless a development in the Akin story makes the interview outdated). Below are some highlights from the interview.

Akin's response after the original statements on FOX 2's Jaco Report came in many stages. First, Akin said he misspoke and said he meant ‘forcible rape,’ not ‘legitimate rape.’ Then Akin backpedaled even more, going on a couple FOX news programs Monday, and eventually saying he’d done more research and that his comment regarding the female reproduction process was actually wrong. Then early Tuesday morning, he released what amounts to an apology video.

Terry Smith addressed the way Akin has handled the fallout so far.

“He’s doing what I would do in his situation, which is not quitting, and seeing what kind of support he can engender. He was not the party’s choice, and so the withdrawal of party support is not that big of deal to him, the withdrawal of party money might be a big deal to him,” Smith said.

So Akin appears committed to the race. According to state statute, he has until Tuesday at 5:00 pm to drop out of the race - cleanly. Courts have to get involved if he decides to drop out sometime in the next five weeks. After that, his name is on the ballot no matter what.

Meantime, Republicans have distanced themselves from Akin, some calling for him to drop out of the race for the U.S. Senate. There are also reports Akin might lose $5 million in ads from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and support from the Crossroads Super PAC because of the comments.

“They’re both (Akin and Republicans) playing a bit of a game of chicken here, but the Republicans have the bigger car, the national and the state Republicans. This is a high-profile race; it’s a marquee race in the country. The Republicans really do need this. There’s about five of them in play, and this is one of them that they certainly can take. Regardless of what happens here, Claire McCaskill is still vulnerable. I mean she could still lose to a Republican given the trends in the state. So the national party is just wanting to kind of go all in and make sure they’ve got the right person to run against her. And Representative Akin is showing he may not have what it takes to be competitive with her in the general election,” Smith said.

We asked Smith what groups of voters might actually change their vote based on the comments.

“I think there might be, especially some women, who had sort of been on the fence or had not even engaged in the campaign yet, all of a sudden they’re real interested in this… It’s the kind of thing that can really swing a campaign and energize voters,” Smith said.

Smith says this is a rough way to introduce yourself to a statewide electorate.

“Rep. Akin has the same liabilities that Congressman Hulshof had four years ago trying to run a statewide office from a Congressional seat. It’s tough; you have disadvantages simply because when you’re running against someone who has been on a statewide ballot before, as Claire McCaskill has, I think this is her fourth time. You know, she’s got name recognition. Todd Akin, first of all, has to get name recognition. He has it now,” Smith said.

Meantime, Smith says Senator McCaskill just has to sit and wait.

“She needs to be careful what she wishes for. It all worked out for her when she got the nominee she wanted from the Republican Party,” Smith said, mentioning McCaskill’s campaign ads aimed to help Akin win the nomination. “She saw him as being her weakest opponent. If he steps aside and if the Republicans come along with one of the other two candidates who were defeated in the primary, or an interesting speculation, former Senator (Jim) Talent, or someone else who has statewide name recognition. Her vulnerabilities may be exposed,” McCaskill

Which gives some insight into how McCaskill’s campaign has reacted to the statements. Right after Akin’s comments, McCaskill issued a statement saying they were “offensive” and ‘beyond comprehension,” and talked about her work with rape victims as a prosecutor. But after the furious response, she’s now saying Akin won the nomination “fair and square,” and the national party shouldn’t be able to “pull the rug out” from under him.

“I think she has sequenced this in the right order, basically the outrage and then saying, come on Republicans. You guys made your choice, stick with it. She’s playing her cards properly here. But everything is in Akin’s hands now. She’s going to have to be reacting to what the Republicans do and especially what Rep. Akin does. And he’s got time; I mean here it is Tuesday morning when we’re recording this. It may be by the end of the day he will have stepped down he may not do anything. He still has time to withdraw from the ballot and for the Republicans to replace him,” Smith said.

“The speed with which the national ticket repudiated, Gov. Romney repudiated this, it’s going to make campaigning in Missouri interesting. Because if Akin stays on the ticket, after the convention and the Romney-Ryan campaign comes to Missouri, I mean they’re going to have to distance themselves from each other, that’s not a healthy thing. You certainly don’t want that if you’re a Republican,” Smith said.

Famuliner: “So that may hurt other Republican candidates here in Missouri?”

Smith” “Oh, absolutely.”

Terry Smith is Executive Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs at Columbia College, and a regular contributor to Talking Politics