Republican operatives tell me they are not expecting Todd Akin to pull out today. Surrounded by family and an adviser, Rex Elsass, who clearly wants Akin’s Senate campaign gig to continue, Akin is thought to be under the delusion he can ride this out. GOP insiders and a growing list of conservative advocates (e.g., Ann Coulter, Mark Levin, the National Review editorial board) want him out as soon as possible to allow the GOP to get in a new candidate who can win the state and will not muddy the waters on the party’s pro-life message. (Liberals are doing their best to tar pro-life candidates with Akin’s words on rape, no matter how strenuously they denounce Akin’s words.)
But today’s deadline is artificial. The Missouri statute states that “at any time after the time limits set forth in subsection 1 [today’s deadline] of this section but no later than 5:00 p.m. on the sixth Tuesday [Sept. 25] before the election, withdraw as a candidate pursuant to a court order, which, except for good cause shown by the election authority in opposition thereto, shall be freely given upon application by the candidate to the circuit court in the county of such candidate’s residence. No withdrawal pursuant to this subsection shall be effective until such candidate files a copy of the court’s order in the office of the official who accepted such candidate’s declaration of candidacy.”
The “freely given” standard is exceptionally generous and the secretary of state would have to show good cause why Akin wouldn’t be allowed off the ballot. (If and when he goes, I am sure he could make a compelling case of, among other things, mental stress.)
So it may be that it takes a week or so of nasty ads, a plunge in the polls, a fundraising crunch and state party activists’ pleading to get Akin to decide to get out. This would handicap a new candidate and subject other Republicans and pro-life groups to a good deal of grief, but in the end the GOP could still field another candidate.
A number of key pro-life groups are remaining silent, for now. From their perspective, they find it hard to turn on a loyal pro-life candidate. That said, they are nervously watching, knowing that Akin may cost the GOP a critical Senate seat and do a great deal of harm to their cause.
In trying to keep his candidacy alive, Akin has cynically played the forgiveness card in a new ad, a blatant play for support from Christian conservatives, who believe in repentance and often welcome back reformed sinners. But this is not an act of forgiveness. Pro-life voters and Republicans more generally need not feel malice toward Akin, at least not yet, in order to demand he exit the race.
This is a matter of political malpractice and hard-nosed politics: If Akin stays, so could the president’s mandate to religious groups on contraception, Obamacare and the rest of President Obama’s agenda. At some point, these groups might come to understand that sometimes you do have to cut off a limb to save a patient.
In this, the Republicans of Missouri play a critical role. Will they stick by Akin, and let it be know by e-mail, poll responses and closing the checkbook that he must go? We’ll see. Just don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen today.