Todd Akin’s Bachmann-esque problem

August 20, 2012

Rep. Todd Akin is doing his best to talk himself out of a seat in the U.S. Senate.

The Missouri congressman's claim in a local TV interview that aired Sunday morning that "legitimate rape" rarely causes pregnancy immediately elevated his race with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) to the level of national news.

And nothing could be worse for Republicans.


View Photo Gallery — Women and the 2012 campaign: A look back at who said what in an election season that has focused heavily on women’s issues.

 

Akin, who won his primary two weeks ago with the help of ad spending from national Democrats who thought he would be the weakest GOP nominee, nonetheless starts the race as the favorite. If he could just run a quiet campaign and simply be steady, he should be a senator come January.

Akin seems to suffer from a condition that afflicts many unsuccessful politicians: Saying what's on his mind.

Akin has a knack for making news when he speaks, because he unapologetically espouses factually suspect policies and extreme views that even the most ardent conservative politicians wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole (wanting to re-litigate civil rights laws, comparing federal student loans to stage 3 cancer and opposing federal funding for school lunches -- and that's just in the past few days). They may be his real views, but that doesn't mean his constituents want to hear them.

The most recent analog is Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), whose presidential campaign was derailed after she spouted a series of facts and theories that turned out not to be true. Bachmann had a chance to be a player in the race, but she had no message discipline, and it was her downfall.

Akin comes from the same school of true-believer social conservatism as Bachmann. He also seems to come from the same school of shooting from the hip.

During the GOP presidential primary, Bachmann passed along a story from a woman she met on the campaign trail who said the HPV vaccine caused her daughter to have "mental retardation."

Akin's claim, in the same way, was attributed to other people.

"First of all, from what I understand from doctors, (pregnancy from rape) is really rare,” he said.

People with whom Akin associates might well have said such things. But it's also risky to repeat such baseless claims, because as a politician, repeating someone else's claim usually makes it your own. A big-time candidate needs to know that.

What Akin said is likely a more common belief than most Americans realize. There are several examples of state lawmakers and even a federal judicial nominee having expressed the same view (BuzzFeed has a rundown). And a quick Google search shows the view isn't relegated to just a few rogue politicians; it's one that some in the social conservative community believe -- despite the medical community's clear verdict that it's nonsense.

This is part of Akin's problem. Like Bachmann, he comes from this world and from a conservative district where getting to the right of your opponent is the name of the game. It's hard to make the jump from that place into the political mainstream in a big-time race.

Those who have been able to do it successfully know how to moderate their rhetoric -- if not necessarily their views.

But like Bachmann, Akin has little connection to the political professional world -- either nationally or in Missouri -- and that's going to make the transition much harder.

"Don't expect Missouri Republicans to defend Akin," said one Missouri GOP strategist granted anonymity to speak candidly about the situation. "Akin has never helped fellow Republicans so no one has any loyalty to him.

The strategist added: "The real problem is that Akin will continue to make these off-the-wall stupid comments."

Akin was quick to say Sunday afternoon that he "misspoke," and his campaign, to its credit, is doing what it can to put the issue behind it.

But if he can't resist the urge to make such remarks in the coming months, it's going to take the focus off of McCaskill and cause big problems for the GOP in its efforts to reclaim the Senate.

Romney super PAC ads: The top super PAC devoted to electing Mitt Romney is launching a $10.5 million ad campaign in 11 states hitting President Obama on the economy.

"Mitt Romney spent his life in the private sector, creating thousands of jobs," the narrator says in the ad from Restore Our Future. "Barack Obama wasted $800 billion on a failed stimulus and the jobless rate went up."

The ad is running in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

"While the Obama team continues with their widely condemned campaign of personal attacks and distortions, Restore Our Future is focusing on jobs, the national debt, and which candidate is best equipped to turn around the American economy," said Charlie Spies, the super PAC's co-founder and treasurer.

GOP freshmen investigated for Galilee swim; one got nude: Politico reports that some freshman Republicans took an alcohol-fueled late night dip in the Sea of Galilee during a fact-finding trip last year and caught the attention of the FBI for it. Oh, and one freshman swam without a suit on.

Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) acknowledged to the publication that he swam naked and apologized to his constituents, and some witnesses said drinking was involved. Others who swam included freshman Reps. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.), Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) and Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.).

The members were scolded by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) the day after the incident, according to Politico.

It doesn't appear that anything became of the FBI's investigation, and Yoder's office said he never heard from the bureau.

Fixbits:

A top Romney adviser says that he could balance the budget by 2020.

Romney raised $7 million on a recent East Coast fundraising swing.

Obama adviser Stephanie Cutter reiterates that she didn't know Joe Soptic's story, despite  hosting a conference call with him earlier this year. She also responds to GOP criticism of Obama's lack of national media availability by saying People magazine is just as important as they are.

Rick Santorum says Vice President Biden was playing the "race card" with his "chains" comment.

Another top Romney adviser says an ad that criticizes Obama for taking credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden makes some good points about intelligence leaks.

Rudy Giuliani, who has already questioned Biden's fitness for the presidency, calls him "a joke."

Grover Norquist says George H.W. Bush "lied" to the American people about "no new taxes."

Texas GOP Senate candidate Ted Cruz says the GOP would lose the 2012 election if it's a battle of personalities, rather than an issues-based campaign.

CNN reports Ann Romney is expected to headline the first day of the Republican National Convention.

College Republicans launch a $2 million voter turnout program.

A Siena College poll shows Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.) trailing challenger Chris Collins (R) 47 percent to 45 percent.

Must-reads:

"Big gulf between political parties, divisions within" -- Dan Balz and Jon Cohen, Washington Post

"Is the 2012 election more about base than undecideds?" -- Chris Cillizza, Washington Post

"Obama Leads Big — Among Those Least Likely to Vote" -- Nate Silver, New York Times

"Paul Ryan's First Week: Heavy on Attacks, Light on Wonkery" -- Rebecca Kaplan, National Journal

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
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Aaron Blake | August 19, 2012