A leadership view on Todd Akin’s decision to stay in the race


Missouri Republican Senate candidate, Rep. Todd Akin, has decided to stay in the race. (Jeff Roberson/AP)
September 26, 2012

Jena McGregor is a columnist for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.

No big surprise: Todd Akin is staying in the race. The opportunity to drop out of the race ended Tuesday for the Missouri Senate candidate who made controversial comments about “legitimate rape” last month, and Akin has now confirmed he’ll stay in. He has been endorsed by Newt Gingrich, and following Tuesday’s deadline added Rick Santorum, South Carolina senator Jim DeMint and former Missouri senator Roy Blount to the ranks of his supporters, too.

Akin’s remarks (for which he has apologized) were not only plainly wrong, but offensive and insulting. They caused a firestorm both outside and inside his own party. But his decision to stay in the race also raises an interesting leadership question: Does it say more about who he might be as a leader that he decided to stay in, or would it have been more magnanimous for him to step aside?

Most people will answer that question from the lens of their political views. Many Republicans, concerned about his chances of winning in a critical race that could help decide who retains control of the Senate, have been hoping he’d do what’s best for the party and step aside. And many people would consider that the mark of a good leader: someone who puts their own interests secondary to the greater good—in this case, the mission and legislative priorities of the Republican party.

Democrats, meanwhile, have been hoping Akin would stay in. His remarks have strengthened the standing of his opponent, incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill, who is now polling about five percentage points ahead of Akin, according to an average of polls on RealClearPolitics. That’s a reversal of the data from July and August. And plenty of his supporters would argue that staying in shows fortitude, a commitment to principles and a man not easily swayed by the influence of others. “I was given a trust,” Akin said in a press conference, adding later, “the decision was made by the voters of the state of Missouri.”

Akin may indeed think winning the primary and the support he has from voters forces him to go on. Or he may simply have too much pride, ego or chutzpah to agree to step down. My guess is the resoluteness he showed in the face of high-level party pressure will galvanize more supporters to his side, even if, in the end, the remarks he made in August are simply too much for him to overcome and win.

More from On Leadership:

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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