The GOP’s not so Akin heart

    When we last visited Todd Akin – the Republican senatorial candidate who thinks that women have the magical biological power to stop pregnancies caused by “legitimate” rape – he was being shunned by virtually all his party colleagues. But no longer.

    This is a story about how the hunger to win typically trumps the (often fleeting) desire to do the right thing.

    The Republican establishment did the right thing back in August after Akin told his fellow Missourians that if victims of “legitimate” rape get pregnant, “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” That medieval outburst was too extreme even for the party that has been fighting state by state to impinge on women’s health. All the GOP bigwigs bailed on him. They said that he had blown a winnable seat, that his remarks had ensured victory for Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill.

    Sen. John Cornyn, who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee (the party arm that supports candidates with bucks and messaging), said simply of Akin, “We’re done.” Sen. Roy Blunt, the GOP’s Missouri senator, said in August that Akin “has managed to get himself into a situation where he has become the issue. The national interest, I believe, is for Akin to take a look at what the likely result of what his staying in the race is.”

    When somebody like Blunt says “take a look,” it’s code for “take a hike.” And Blunt was even blunter when he joined four ex-Missouri senators in a statement: “We do not believe it serves the national interest for (Akin) to stay in this race…The right decision is to step aside.”

    But that was then. Here was Blunt two nights ago.

    “Akin and I don’t agree on everything, but he and I agree the Senate majority must change. From Governor Romney to the county courthouse, I’ll be working for the Republican ticket in Missouri, and that includes Todd Akin.”

    Which I take to mean that “the national interest” has been radically redefined, and that the GOP should be open to all, including biologically ignorant misogynists.

    But what about the National Republican Senatorial Committee? It still deems Akin to be totally beyond the pale, right? Uh, no.

    Executive director Rob Jesmer released this statement yesterday: “There is no question that for Missourians who believe we need to stop the reckless Washington spending, rein in the role of government in people’s lives, and finally focus on growing jobs, that Todd Akin is a far more preferable candidate than liberal Senator Claire McCaskill. As with every Republican Senate candidate, we hope Todd Akin wins in November and we will continue to monitor this race closely in the days ahead.”

    So much for Cornyn’s “we’re done.” The party establishment has given itself the requisite wiggle room to open the money spigot for Akin after all.

    You can surely guess what’s going on here. Back in August, Republicans calculated that they could banish Akin – and write off the Missouri race – because they were strong enough elsewhere to score a net gain of four Senate seats and thus retake the chamber. But today they don’t appear to be nearly as well positioned. For a host of reasons (including Romney’s weighty baggage), Republican senatorial candidates are faring below expectations in Wisconsin, Indiana, Virginia, and North Dakota; and Republican incumbents are vulnerable in Massachusetts and Nevada. All told, there are fewer paths to that four-seat gain than the GOP envisioned in August.

    Which explains why Blunt and the NRSC, as well as the Missouri Republican party, are suddenly making nice to the August outcast. Today they need him. And he’s staying in the race; the last dropout deadline came and went at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

    Yes, Akin’s poll numbers have slid since his crazy remark (he has a history of crazy remarks); yes, McCaskill has a lot more money than he does; and yes, she has barely begun unload on him in TV ads. But Republicans need to put Missouri back into the mix, if they’re to have any chance of capturing the Senate in November. So they’ll bed down with their strangest bedfellow. Hey, that’s politics.

    But the fact that they need him at all is a sign of political weakness.

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    Meanwhile, closer to home:

    Remember last week when I wrote that the Pennsylvania GOP’s voter suppression plot was hanging by a thread? Actually, it’s hanging by a scintilla of dental floss.

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    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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