Lazarus Rises in Missouri
Boyer, Peter J., Newsweek
Byline: Peter J. Boyer
Todd Akin was left for dead. He could win--and change the Senate.
Of those lonely souls deemed untouchable in polite political circles, the persona non grata of the year has to be Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri. So swift and thorough was Akin's shunning by his fellow Republicans after his infamous midsummer gaffe--"legitimate rape," he told a TV interviewer, rarely results in pregnancy because a woman's body can shut down and prevent conception--that the smart money had Akin out of the race by Labor Day.
Akin was publicly urged to go away by his party's presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, and by the elder statesmen of the Missouri GOP. Akin's colleague in the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, newly named as Romney's running mate, personally telephoned Akin, asking him to quit the race for the good of the party--which desperately needs a win in Missouri to have any hope of retaking the Senate. Worse, for a politician, the big money from Washington was cut off when the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (along with Karl Rove's American Crossroads PAC) decided that Akin couldn't win. And Akin found no solace in the rightward commentariat. Ann Coulter, whose lacerating barbs are usually directed at liberals, called Akin a "selfish swine" for not surrendering.
Two months later, Akin bears the aspect of a wounded animal, cautious and still plainly spooked by the experience. "The amount of pressure on me," he says, "was incredible."
Yet less than a month before Election Day, Akin not only remains the Republican candidate to unseat Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill, but is actually within striking distance of what could be the election season's most stunning victory. Though badly outspent by McCaskill, Akin is close enough in the polls that Real Clear Politics counts the race a tossup. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)--who'd been among those urging Akin to quit--now judges that "he very well may win."
Once the late-September deadline for replacing Akin on the ballot passed, the Republican establishment seemed to realize that, like it or not (and mostly, it did not), Akin suddenly represented the party's best chance for winning the Senate. There have been hints that big money may start flowing from the national party to Missouri--though Akin is not counting on it ("My guess is, some will, and some won't").
But even if Akin does ultimately get last-minute assistance from the national GOP, he will still, should he win, owe very little to his party's establishment. That would be a rather unusual situation for a freshman senator. And it could allow him to become a uniquely powerful proponent for the Tea Party's agenda on Capitol Hill--not to mention a serious headache for the Senate's GOP leadership. "What I've found in politics is a simple thing: pretty soon there's gonna be a bill, and they're gonna want someone to vote for their bill, or against some other bill," says Akin. "And they'll be thinking, 'Man, we're a vote short, what are we gonna do? You mean we're gonna have to go talk to him?' Well, it depends on whether or not they want to win."
Todd Akin is the sort of politician whose so-called gaffes are not very distant from his firmly held convictions. An engineer by training, and the scion of a family that owned steel mills for three generations, Akin entered politics after he and his wife, Lulli (whom he met when both were in IBM's training program), were born again in a Bible Study Fellowship program. Newly saved, Akin left his family's mill and entered seminary but decided that God's calling for him was politics.
"God's the boss," he says, and that attitude has defined his political career, both in state politics and in Washington. He is fiercely pro-life (in which circles he encountered the medical literature, widely discredited, about rape and pregnancy), and a staunch small-government conservative. …