Rod Jetton: How Todd Akin Won

All throughout 2012 Missouri’s U.S. Senate race was garnering significant attention because of its implications on the outcome of the majority, but after Congressman Akin’s offensive comment on rape he has became a talking point to all political commentators, a joke to average citizens around the water cooler, and a lightning rod of sensitivity to those who have suffered rape.

Many national political observers are asking, “How did this guy get elected in Missouri?”  His rise from an unnoticed conservative backbencher in the minority Missouri state legislature to the Republican U.S. Senate nominee is not that complicated.

Akin is not that well liked by the establishment of the Missouri Republican Party and has never been respected by party leaders and other elected republicans.  You probably expect all Republicans to say that after his comment, but as a former Republican leader who is now out of the party I can tell you Akin never did much to help other Republicans.

Sure, most politicians take care of themselves first, but usually they do something to play ball and help the “team,” but not Todd Akin. He never needed the help of the party to win any of his primaries, and they never respected him so he never lifted a finger to help anyone unless it helped advance his principles (something hardcore conservatives admire him for).

My point is not to bash Todd Akin, he is a patriotic American whose son’s serve in the military (U.S. Marines!) and I have no doubts about his genuine commitment to our country and its founding principles.  He is a hardcore conservative and proved it when he was one of the few Republicans to vote against President Bush’s Medicare expansion for prescription drugs.  He has a wonderful family that anyone would be proud of and he sticks with what he believes.  He also avoids negative campaigning which attracts many of his supporters. I have always said, “If you want a conservative who will vote no on everything then Todd Akin is your man.  He doesn’t get many reforms passed or change things but he can always be counted on to cut spending and vote no.”

As a former politician who has said some stupid things, I can understand how easy it is to say something stupid and wish you had said it differently.  I also know that sometimes you say or do something so stupid it ends your political career.  In Congressman Akin’s situation this could be one of those times.

For example, my wife who is a strong pro-life Christian, but dislikes politics and never follows political news heard his comment on TV and reacted, “I’m voting against that guy for sure.”  She had no idea who was running against him and seem didn’t care.  She is strongly pro-life and like Akin believes in the case of pregnancy resulting from a rape the baby should not be aborted because it is not the baby’s fault.  When I hear strong pro-life conservatives like her turning against Akin (even after he apologized) as well as conservative national radio show hosts I know his political viability is jeopardized.

Now let’s get back to how he was elected. In 1988 Todd ran for State Representative in one of the most conservative districts in Missouri.  The 86th district covered the wealthy suburbs of St. Louis County where the majority of the small Republican House caucus came from.  In those days the republicans only held 56 seats out of 163.  Todd ran in a Republican primary as a hardcore conservative against James O’Brian a respected republican.  Todd proved to be an excellent organizer and excelled at identifying those who agreed with his views and plugged them into his campaign.

He served 12 years in the House minority and never had the chance to effect much change in a chamber dominated by the democrats.  In 2000 when Congressman Talent gave up his safe republican seat to run for governor, Todd Akin jumped into a very crowded five way primary, with several well known and respected challengers. He was not expected to win and was heavily outspent by his opponents, but he did have a hardcore group of homeschoolers and Christian conservatives and a wife who organized a very effective ground game.  Akin had very little money and was last in the polls going into the final 30 days until the other candidates started attacking each other and “somehow” Akin slipped by them and won the five way primary by 56 votes.

While he had never done much as a minority member in the House many conservative activists thought that since he was now in the majority he would take Washington by storm.  Of course most grassroots activists don’t know how the legislative process works.  Even in the majority you have to get along and horse trade to be a good “team member” in the majority.  Anyone who knows Todd Akin knows he is not as they say, a dependable “team member”.  He takes pride in doing his own thing, but that mindset never allowed him to get many reforms passed or be in a position to change things.

Back home in his conservative congressional district he effectively worked constituent services and stayed to the far right so that he could never be outflanked in a primary.  He has always had his dependable group of conservative supporters but the business leaders and moderate republicans in St. Louis grew to detest him.  Every two years they would try to get anyone who seemed credible to run in the primary against him, but no one was willing to take on a far right congressman in the intensely conservative district.  His lack of friends and influence allowed him to be pushed around in the 2000 redistricting process that saw him lose key corporate business and republican territory to Lacy Clay which angered the St. Louis blue bloods even more.


Republicans have seen their margins in St. Louis County erode considerably since the turn of the century.  They used to hold the democrats even or see small losses there, but then makeup those margins in the rural areas and win statewide.  In 2004 Gov. Blunt lost St. Louis County by almost 60,000 votes.  I remember him saying, “If someone would have told me I would lose St. Louis County by 60,000 votes I would never have run for governor because I would not have believed I could make up that margin outstate.”

Akin took the blame for this.  Most Republican leaders would talk about how well Congressman Talent organized St. Louis County and how important that he was to their statewide efforts, but now they blamed most losses on Akin and complained that he only worked for himself and his organization never helped anyone else.  After any statewide loss they would pull up St. Louis County, look at the numbers and blame Akin.  Even if they won and the St. Louis numbers were bad they would say, “Thank goodness for southwest Missouri, because we are getting killed in St. Louis County by Akin.”

In 2012 Congressman Akin decided to run for the U.S. Senate against Claire.  Nobody in the Republican Party leadership wanted him to run or believed he could beat Claire but many secretly feared he would be able to get enough hardcore conservatives to win a primary.  Then John Brunner and his millions from St. Louis jumped in the race and Steelman was already in and most republican leaders hoped Brunner would outspend them both and win or that Brunner and Akin would split the St. Louis vote allowing Steelman the only female and outstate candidate to edge past the St. Louis boys.  Their main focus was making sure Akin lost.

While others thought he would lose I’m betting Akin never doubted he would win, because 2012 was just like the other primaries he had won before.  The two frontrunners attacked each other and he quietly reached out to home school families, pastors and hardcore fiscal conservatives.  Just like in all the other races his campaign didn’t seem to be connecting, and the republican leaders started to believe that he would lose.  But in this race he received a big boost from Claire McCaskill.  While Brunner and Steelman were fighting it out, Claire helped Akin with a huge TV buy tagging him as the true conservative in the race.  Suddenly, in the last week when primary voters were making up their minds while Akin was running a positive campaign on the issues and Claire was attacking him as the true conservative Akin quietly surged in the polls and ended up with 36 percent of the primary vote.

I laugh when I hear liberals in Missouri say that Todd Akin is the poster child for the Republican Party.  If they knew anything about the party they would know he has been on the outside looking in all these years.  He has survived and moved up by allowing the conventional candidates to fight and squabble while he did the hard but effective groundwork necessary to turn out his base.

The only reason Republicans picked Todd Akin this year was because Claire was smart enough to help get him elected.  It sure was not because any of the republican establishment was helping him.  As a political observer it’s been fun to watch, although I don’t like seeing a good man who means well and sticks to what he believes face such harsh criticism and unforgiveness for a stupid comment.  The reason all the Republican leaders in Missouri threw him overboard so quickly was because they never wanted him to win in the first place.  We have seen several other republicans in Missouri make similar huge mistakes but they were not abandoned like Akin has been.

I don’t agree with his comments in any way and clearly he was dead wrong on the science, the morality and the basic common sense facts of rape, but it’s not the first time a politician from either party has said something completely wrong and stupid.  It is sad when it destroys a campaign but if it was a liberal democrat it honestly probably wouldn’t be quite as sad to me.  Politics is a rough sport.  The teams and players play for keeps and when you give them some rope they quickly hang you with it.  Todd Akin is seeing that first hand.   I respect Claire for her abilities and it makes me think we are fortunate to have someone as savvy as her in Washington fighting for Missouri.

Most party leaders think Akin will back out of the race, but I doubt that.  His hardcore and hardworking base has done something they probably wouldn’t do for Obama or Claire- accepted his apology. As in his other races, I bet he is confident he can still win so now they have to deal with a candidate they turned against but couldn’t push out of the race. What a cluster! I doubt Akin can win this race after his comments, but I except his apology and wish him and his family the best.

(Cross-posted, with permission of the author, from Politico’s Arena)


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