Economic vs. social issues
Party leaders had hoped that the Akin matter would be resolved well in advance of the meeting in Tampa so that the abortion issue would not be a sideshow to Romney’s coronation. Throughout the spring and early summer, when the campaign focused on President Obama’s stewardship of the economy, Romney advanced in the polls. But back in the winter, when the GOP primary tilted toward social issues, Obama edged ahead of his rivals.
This week, as more than 100 party officials gathered before the convention to map out the Republican platform, abortion took center stage. The platform committee adopted a proposal Tuesday calling for a constitutional amendment protecting “human life” — a broad antiabortion stance that says nothing about whether exceptions should be allowed in cases of rape and incest. Democrats labeled it the “Akin plank.”
The staunchest opponents of abortion, led by the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins and the Eagle Forum’s Phyllis Schlafly, said they remained behind Akin’s candidacy Tuesday.
“Todd Akin . . . has a record of voting to protect human life,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement. He “has been an excellent partner in the fight for the unborn.”
Akin’s defiance of Republican leaders in Washington and Missouri is the latest test of the clout of the GOP’s once-powerful establishment, which for more than two years has jousted with its base of conservative activists. To some extent, the powerlessness reflects the establishment’s failure in a string of 2010 Senate primaries to secure nominations for candidates it backed. That led to several embarrassing losses in the general election and a decision this year to stay out of contested primaries.
With Tuesday’s deadline passed, Akin now has until Sept. 25, should he reverse course, to petition the courts to remove his name from the ballot and replace it with that of another Republican, who would be selected by party leaders.
Cutting off campaign cash
Drying up Akin’s financial support may be the last card GOP leaders have left to play. He raised a little more than $2 million before the Aug. 7 primary, most of which was spent in the three-way race, from which he emerged with a plurality victory of 36 percent.
Besides the NRSC pulling its financial support, McConnell and Cornyn have cancelled plans to fete Akin at a Sept. 19 fundraiser in Washington with roughly a dozen GOP senators on hand, according to a senior NRSC aide.
It’s unclear that such political pressure can work on Akin, a six-term congressman from the St. Louis suburbs. In his House career, he has never been particularly close to party leaders such as Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) or Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.). He serves on the Armed Services Committee and is a proud advocate of earmarking funds for local projects, despite GOP leaders’ opposition to the now-banned practice.
As a member of the Budget Committee, chaired by the party’s vice-presidential pick, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), Akin has regularly voted with a rump caucus of conservatives who think Ryan’s austere budget would not go far enough in cutting government spending.
His campaign team does not consist of seasoned GOP operatives and is instead run by his son.
Sen. Roy Blunt, the most powerful Republican in Missouri, issued a statement along with three former GOP senators calling for Akin to stand down his candidacy.
Instead, Akin launched an ad campaign that is partly an apology but mostly a defense of his antiabortion views. “The mistake I made was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness,” he says in the ad.
Rosalind S. Helderman in Tampa contributed to this report.