Nearly two months ago, Todd Akin bought time on Missouri television to ask forgiveness from voters over regrettable remarks he made about rape. Most scoffed that electoral forgiveness would be forthcoming, and predicted doom and defeat for Republicans in a Senate race most had assumed they would win against unpopular incumbent Claire McCaskill. As soon as it became impossible for Akin to withdraw, McCaskill began bombarding Akin with ads over his statement, and few gave Akin any hope for a comeback.
A new poll from Wenzel Strategies (via James Hohmann at Politico’s Morning Score) might show a glimmer of that hope, however. The likely-voter survey puts Akin up four points over McCaskill, 48.9/44.7, with 87% of the vote firm. The sample on this poll has a D/R/I of 38/37/25, more Democratic than the 2010 midterm turnout in Missouri of 34/37/28, although not as Democratic as the 2008 turnout model of 40/34/26 that nonetheless gave John McCain a narrow win in the state.
However, a couple of points should be kept in mind. First, this is a poll conducted on behalf of a partisan client, Citizens United Political Victory Fund, and Wenzel does a lot of work for Republicans. We’d be suspicious of PPP polls, so it’s fair to note this. Second, the poll also shows Mitt Romney ahead of Barack Obama by almost 14 points, 54.9/41.1, while the RCP average for MO is Romney +5.2%. The last poll in that series, though, was conducted before the first debate, and it’s entirely possible that the race in Missouri has shifted significantly since. It’s worth noting that Obama’s favorability in the poll is 49.5/49.1, so it’s not as though this has an overwhelming tilt.
Peter Boyer at The Daily Beast says that counting out Akin at this point would be a mistake. So, too, would be counting out some high-profile Republican help for Akin in the final couple of weeks, for pragmatic purposes:
Yet less than a month before Election Day, Akin not only remains the Republican candidate to unseat Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill, but is actually within striking distance of what could be the election season’s most stunning victory. Though badly outspent by McCaskill, Akin is close enough in the polls that Real Clear Politics counts the race a tossup. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)—who’d been among those urging Akin to quit—now judges that “he very well may win.”
Once the late-September deadline for replacing Akin on the ballot passed, the Republican establishment seemed to realize that, like it or not (and mostly, it did not), Akin suddenly represented the party’s best chance for winning the Senate. There have been hints that big money may start flowing from the national party to Missouri—though Akin is not counting on it (“My guess is, some will, and some won’t”).
But even if Akin does ultimately get last-minute assistance from the national GOP, he will still, should he win, owe very little to his party’s establishment. That would be a rather unusual situation for a freshman senator. And it could allow him to become a uniquely powerful proponent for the Tea Party’s agenda on Capitol Hill—not to mention a serious headache for the Senate’s GOP leadership. “What I’ve found in politics is a simple thing: pretty soon there’s gonna be a bill, and they’re gonna want someone to vote for their bill, or against some other bill,” says Akin. “And they’ll be thinking, ‘Man, we’re a vote short, what are we gonna do? You mean we’re gonna have to go talk to him?’ Well, it depends on whether or not they want to win.”
At this point, why not pitch in? Akin’s the Republican candidate, and the race is definitely not lost. Romney doesn’t need the help in Missouri, but defeating McCaskill would be a huge boost to Republican hopes of controlling the Senate. Furthermore, the continued competitiveness of this race shows that the damage from the gaffe has receded. Thanks to McCaskill’s blanketing of the state on the gaffe, it’s done all the damage it could possibly do now. Those voters who might still change their minds won’t be changing horses based on that now.