This weekend my Twitter stream was aflame with outrage at Todd Akin, the Republican candidate for Senate in the state of Missouri. In this my stream resembled much of the rest of the country, and with good reason. It seems inconceivable that someone who thinks women who are “legitimately raped” cannot get pregnant could ever be taken seriously enough to hold any job, let alone serve multiple terms as a Congressman.
In addition to expressing outrage about Akin, some people I follow decided to indict the entire state of Missouri for his (a) primary win, and (b) lead over the incumbent Democrat, Claire McCaskill, in the polls. My attempts to argue against these positions went nowhere. But hey, I have a blog. So I decided to write a post responding to these points, and also to give a little background on how Akin got to where he is.
My guess is most people who are justifiably and properly angry at Akin and his mind-blowingly insulting and stupid comments didn’t even know there was a Senate race in Missouri until Sunday. Which is understandable. But there is a predictable process by which people like this wind up running for important elected positions. And as a voter in Missouri, there is FUCK ALL I can do about it.
Todd Akin is a very conservative, very evangelical business executive from the St. Louis suburbs. He was first elected to the Missouri Legislature and then ran successfully for Congress. There, he has not only served on the Science and Technology Committee, but even worse, he’s on Ways and Means. That’s the budget committee, folks, and generally considered the most important committee assignment in the House.
Akin has been saying things comparable to his latest utterance for years. But no one noticed or cared. He has a very loyal conservative and evangelical base, and they turn out for him.
Missouri’s GOP primaries are closed, which means only registered Republicans can vote in them. [I misremembered. The GOP primary was open; see comments below.]They are held in the summer and get very low turnout. They are delinked from the presidential primary, which hurts them even more.
This year the turnout for the primary election was 23 percent. There were twice as many Republicans voting as Democrats (more competitive races), but that’s still an abysmally low number. That makes it much easier for extreme wings of either part to prevail. It’s not just primary races that are affected; that’s when the anti-gay-marriage amendment was passed, and this year a pro-public-prayer amendment made it through.
Conservative voters mobilize for these primaries and liberal voters mostly don’t. So this is the outcome.
But, you might ask (as was asked on Twitter), why is he leading in the polls by 11 percent? That question assumes the poll is reliable. I have my doubts. State polls are always less reliable, and this is a robopoll of less than 600 people with a plus-minues of 4.5 percent. Even more telling, in the poll (you can see the details at Real Clear Politics), over 70 percent of respondents say they are “very enthusiastic” about the Senate election. I find that completely unbelievable. So I don’t really trust the poll.
But even if we ignore that poll, Akin is still slightly ahead of McCaskill. And Nate Silver had him projected to win, so it must be true! I do believe he’s ahead. Granted, it’s still August and polls are not as reliable this far out. But why would this douchetastic jackass be ahead?
I can think of two reasons. Missouri is trending more conservative every election. In 2008 it was a swing state, this year neither Romney nor Obama is paying attention to it because both put it in the Romney category.
Second, there are a lot of voters in Missouri who loathe Claire McCaskill. In 2008, she barely beat the Republican candidate despite the huge Democratic turnout for Obama. She is still seen as extremely vulnerable, and her negatives are especially high among independents. She’s not going to the Democratic Convention and Obama is not campaigning for her, largely because she’s trying to win independents who are likely Romney voters.
Let’s recap. Akin won the Republican primary because his extreme base turned out in greater numbers than supporters of the other two, not quite as horrible (by comparison) candidates. His win was considered an upset, since the GOP and various “luminaries” like Sarah Palin were supporting the other candidates.
And one more thing. Akin was the beneficiary of ads that targeted him as a conservative, which solidified his appeal to conservative voters. Who was running these ads? Claire McCaskill, to the tune of a couple of million dollars.
Yes, Todd Akin, for obvious reasons, was McCaskill’s first choice as a candidate, the one she considered most beatable. So she helped him win the primary. And that’s how we got here.
Now the GOP, which couldn’t keep Akin from winning the primary, is trying to get him to resign and has pulled the plug on his national funding. So have the “independent” Republican organizations. He has until 5 pm today to do it easily; after that, he has until September 25 to do it after obtaining a court order.
Basically, the Senate race is now a clusterfuck for the GOP and a possible win for the Democrats. If Akin pulls out of the race the GOP could put up a more mainstream party candidate, but s/he would be at a disadvantage starting so late in the campaign. And the conservative base will be deeply pissed. If Akin stays, the conservatives will vote for him but the independents may not. It depends on how much they want to send a Republican to the Senate.
It will be an interesting race from the political-junkie point of view. For many Missouri voters, it’s just another shitty, shitty choice.
And just to forestall the “if you want better candidates, work for them” argument: I have busted my ass getting out the vote in Missouri elections. As in, put in my personal time and effort. But both parties in the state are badly run and short on candidates with integrity and intelligence. I totally understand why people can barely bring themselves to vote.