Akin Slowly Regains Support After 'Legitimate Rape'

Less than two weeks out from the election, the Democratic Senate seat the GOP figured would be easiest to pick off seems maddeningly out of reach. In Missouri, Republican candidate Todd Akin remains dogged by his "legitimate rape" comment. Mainstream Republican groups have stayed away from the race, and Democrat Claire McCaskill appears to be in good shape to win a second term.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Audie Cornish. The race for the Senate seat held by Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill, has seen some wild swings this year. Republicans initially thought their candidate, Congressman Todd Akin, had the race locked down. But that changed dramatically in August, when a controversial remark by Akin swung the race in McCaskill's favor. Now, Akin's recovered some of that lost support. NPR's David Welna has this update.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Congressman Todd Akin had been five or six points ahead of Sen. Claire McCaskill in the polls - until he said this, in a local TV interview in mid-August.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

REP. TODD AKIN: If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

WELNA: Republican leaders, worried about women voters, cut Akin loose at that point, even though he apologized for the remark; and ordered him to drop out of the race. But Akin has defiantly kept running, and he's making no more apologies. He has made more controversial remarks, though. Here is his latest - comparing McCaskill, last weekend, to an obedient canine.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROADCAST)

AKIN: So she goes to Washington, D.C. And it's little bit like, you know, one of those dog - you know, fetch.

WELNA: Asked about it later, on St. Louis Public Radio, Akin was unrepentant.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)

AKIN: So you used the wrong word, in terms of fetching something. OK? Maybe you could use something else. But everybody knew what I was talking about. I'm talking about bringing a lot bureaucracy from the capital, and bringing it back to Missouri.

WELNA: Akin has nonetheless gotten endorsements from some prominent Missouri Republicans who'd earlier, demanded he withdraw from the race. But since national Republican money has pulled out, Akin has been relying on grassroots support.

(SOUNDBITE OF BACKGROUND CONVERSATIONS)

WELNA: Earlier this week, at a hotel in the St. Louis suburb of Creve Coeur, several dozen women gather for a rally in support of Akin. Carrie Mulholland(ph) is selling pink T-shirts stamped with a message.

CARRIE MULHOLLAND: It says "WWTFT." And that stands for "women who think for themselves support Todd Akin."

WELNA: One of Akin's supporters is 61-year-old Carla Cumsy(ph), who says she was raped in a parking garage some 20 years ago.

CARLA CUMSY: I even wrote Todd Akin a letter shortly after he decided to stay in the race, and told him I was a rape victim, and I was still for him; and I was hoping he wouldn't leave the race. And if he would have wanted me to go on a commercial, I would have.

WELNA: Polls show support in this race has been shifting again, according to Washington University congressional expert Steven Smith.

STEVEN SMITH: And I think over the course of the last three or four weeks, there's been a trickle back to Akin; shrinking, I'd say, a nine-point lead back to something like five- or six-point lead, on average, in recent polls. That's enough for any candidate to be very anxious about the outcome.

WELNA: McCaskill's campaign has hit back with three ads, each featuring a rape victim. One is a Republican named Diana.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

DIANA: He would criminalize emergency contraception. I've never voted for Claire McCaskill. But because of Todd Akin, I will now.

WELNA: McCaskill, meanwhile, has been out making her own case for re-election, in conservative rural Missouri.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL: Hey, everybody. Hi, how are you?

(APPLAUSE)

WELNA: About 50 locals have turned out to see McCaskill at Baylee Jo's Barbecue just outside the tiny, southeast Missouri town of Ironton. She quickly puts the crowd at ease with a quip.

MCCASKILL: You know, we joke on the campaign that we have a complicated campaign strategy. It's called "keep Todd Akin talking."

(LAUGHTER)

WELNA: Still, McCaskill makes no specific mention of Akin's rape remark. In an interview, she also declines to discuss the dog comment.

MCCASKILL: I want to talk about the things that matter to these families. And I'll let Missourians draw their own conclusions about some of the language that Congressman Akin uses.

WELNA: Restaurant owner Chris Schillinger, for one, supports Mitt Romney for president. But he cannot vote for a man who describes rape as legitimate.

CHRIS SCHILLINGER: Even to have that thought, to just say something like that is just - was appalling to me. And if I wasn't decided already, I was decided at that point - immediately.

WELNA: For McCaskill to win in this GOP-leaning state, she'll need a lot more ticket-splitters - like Schillinger - to stick with her.

David Welna, NPR News, St. Louis.

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