More than two months after his controversial remarks about “legitimate rape,” Republican Todd Akin remains competitive in Missouri’s race for the U.S. Senate.
A new statewide poll for The Star, the St. Louis Post Dispatch and KMOV-TV in St. Louis showed Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill leading Akin 45-43 percent. But that’s within the poll’s 4-point margin of error.
With just nine days to go before the Nov. 6 election, the survey suggests that Akin may still have a shot.
Yet University of Missouri-Kansas City political scientist Beth Miller said an Akin win would surprise her given the Republican’s August comments about raped women having the biological ability to stave off pregnancy.
“His misstatements have hurt his campaign,” Miller said. “I think the McCaskill team has done a really good job of using the statements against him but not saturating the public with those statements. That’s a difficult balance to walk.”
The survey’s findings differ from the four most recent Missouri polls. Three of those showed McCaskill leading by 6 points, and one, from the Republican-leaning Rasmussen Reports, had McCaskill up 51-43 percent.
Of The Star poll, Miller said, “I think her lead is probably a little more than that.”
On Friday, the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report moved the Missouri Senate race into its “Democrat favored” category from “leans Democrat.”
“Akin’s negatives continue to rise, and there is little sign of significant outside Republican intervention,” Rothenberg wrote. “With just over a week before Election Day, this race looks like it’s over — a stunning turn of events in the race we once had as a Republican takeover before the GOP primary.”
Akin, a six-term congressman who won a tough August primary over Sarah Steelman and John Brunner, led McCaskill by 11 points in one poll shortly after that election. But after Akin’s rape comments, McCaskill leaped into the lead by 10 points and has led in every poll since except for one in mid-September.
The most recent poll, though, showed that McCaskill still faces challenges in her home state. Just 40 percent of Missourians said they viewed her favorably compared with 47 percent who viewed her unfavorably. Akin, meantime, was viewed favorably by 28 percent and unfavorably by 42 percent. Others said they were neutral on McCaskill and Akin or didn’t recognize their names.
Miller said McCaskill’s favorability numbers make sense because the senator is a Democrat in a Republican-leaning state.
“Despite her distancing (from President Barack Obama) now, she very much was an Obama supporter in 2008, and I don’t think people forget that,” she said. “When the public turns against a president, anybody tied to him has a difficult time breaking that tie.”
People don’t remember much about politics these days, Miller said. “But one thing they’re likely to remember about McCaskill is that she was one of the first to come out and support Obama.”
The poll said McCaskill’s biggest bloc of support was in the Kansas City area, where she garnered 58 percent to Akin’s 32 percent. Akin performed best in conservative southwest Missouri, where he picked up 54 percent to McCaskill’s 37 percent.
Voters cited Akin’s comments on rape in explaining why they’re voting for McCaskill.
“That guy (Akin), when he talked about abortion like he did with the ladies, that really turned me off,” said Don Shelby, a former meat cutter from Kansas City.
James Campbell, a retired heavy-maintenance worker from Bonne Terre, said one of the big factors in his decision was “the way (Akin) feels about women. He was very wrong.”
Retired chiropractor Jack Davidson of Joplin cited Akin’s alliance with the religious right.
“I worry that we’ll start seeing a theocracy if it swings too far that way,” Davidson said. Of Akin’s abortion comments, he said, “I don’t think it’s just his mouth outrunning his mind there. He was probably saying something closer to what really lurks in there.”
Akin backers cited McCaskill’s support of the new federal health care law.
“Claire McCaskill went against 71 percent of the Missouri voters and voted with Obama on Obamacare,” said Bonny Roney, 64, of Gladstone.
Roney said she disagreed with Akin’s rape comments.
“He went in an area where he probably didn’t feel comfortable,” she said. “He wasn’t qualified to comment on it. People say things all the time they feel sorry about, and they can’t take them back. He apologized, I accept it.”
Jim Carnahan, 69, of Nixa, said he couldn’t vote for McCaskill but doesn’t like Akin either.
“But I’m going to be forced to vote for him,” he said. “McCaskill has done nothing but what Obama wants her to do.”