In interviews with POLITICO, delegates argued that Akin could still win the race in the conservative state, pushing back against the notion that his remarks on rape were a death blow to his Senate candidacy. Several delegates here in Tampa seemed angry at the national party, saying the decision to withhold millions of dollars in campaign funding is the real impediment in their effort to oust Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in November.
“Absolutely,” said John Putnam of Carthage, Mo., when asked if he was disappointed at Romney for demanding that Akin exit the race. “I think he needs to rescind that, retract that. I think [RNC Chairman] Reince Priebus and [Sen.] Roy Blunt and all the people need to support the candidate that the folks from Missouri nominated and picked in the primary.
“I think the GOP party bosses that are trying to drum him out are creating a bigger split in the party than Todd Akin is,” said Putnam, head of the Jasper County Republican Central Committee.
Putnam wasn’t alone. At a breakfast meeting of Missouri delegates here in Tampa, a number were sporting “Akin for Senate” stickers and stood strongly behind the six-term congressman’s decision to stay in the race. The support of the state-level Missouri Republicans for Akin undermines the unified front that the rest of the Republican Party — from Romney down to conservative pundits — has tried to show in urging Akin to quit.
“I think there’s disappointment that they would disengage from a candidate that was elected by the people decisively,” said Vernon Harms, a Missouri delegate. “I think they made a mistake.”
“I think honestly that’s shameful. The party should not throw him under the bus simply because he made a misstatement,” said Mitch Hubbard of Fulton, Mo. “I think Mitt Romney should have focused on his race. … Todd Akin will win his race because of the support he has.”
“I really wish they had been a little more circumspect and had given him the courtesy of letting him explain and apologize,” said Beverly Martin of Fulton, Mo. “As I told my friend, Democrats don’t eat their own.”
Still, while Republican delegates expressed optimism that Akin could withstand the party pressure and ultimately win, a Mason-Dixon poll in the wake of the controversy showed the Republican trailing McCaskill by nine points and his image taking a beating in the eyes of Missouri voters. Republican leaders – backed by conservative personalities like Mark Levin and Ann Coulter– believe that Akin’s candidacy will cost the GOP a seat and a chance at a Republican majority in the Senate.
“Unfortunately with him on the ticket, not only is the Senate race lost, but I think the state ticket is in danger,” former Missouri GOP Sen. Kit Bond told POLITICO, warning that President Barack Obama could even win a state previously believed to be out of his reach. “I’m hearing that Todd is going to be featured in the Democratic Convention. That’s a reason nationally to vote Democratic.”
Bond said Akin has not taken his phone calls, noting that his voicemail is completly full. Akin has apologized several times in the wake of his comments that “legitimate rape” rarely leads to pregnancies because the female body can “shut” it down — comments he made in a local TV interview when discussing why he opposes abortion in the cases of rape. He has until Sept. 25 to obtain a court order to get out of the race and allow the state party to pick a replacement. But Akin has insisted he’s in the race through November.
Still, Blunt was skeptical on Monday.
“I’m not sure he’s going to stay in, there’s still time to think about this,” Blunt told POLITICO. “We think the national issues are what matters here and that Todd needs to evaluate the impact he’s having on the discussion of the issues facing the country today.”
Asked if the seat were out of the GOP’s reach if Akin remains a candidate, Blunt demurred.
“Ask me in October if he’s still there,” he said.
Still, not all Republicans in the congressional delegation are ready to abandon Akin. First-term Rep. Billy Long, who represents the conservative southwestern portion of the state, said Akin was the party’s candidate, whom he planned to support.
“The people of Missouri voted for him, and he’s our guy,” Long told POLITICO. “And either you’re for Todd Akin and I’m not for Claire McCaskill. … He’s been an underdog his whole life, he won a lot of races he wasn’t supposed to win, so I think he can win.”
So do many other delegates – even those who believe he should step aside for the good of the party.
Bessie Thrasher, who hails from the St. Louis area, believes Akin should do what’s best for the Republican Party – but she doesn’t think he will lose.
“I don’t think it will cost the seat. I think the Republicans will vote Republican,” she said.
Others voiced similar sentiments.
“There’s no question he’s hurt himself, but I think that Claire McCaskill is such the poor representation of the people of Missouri that any credible candidate will take her out, including him,” said Nick Myers, who’s from the Joplin area.
But others were more fired up at national Republicans and other conservative critics who are trying to push Akin out.
“I think that’s unfortunate,” said Darin Chappell, a political science teacher who lives in Webster County. “The story we’ve always been told – always — is that regardless of who you supported in the primaries, once the primaries are over, these are our candidates and we support them. And that’s been the mantra of the party for decades – generations. And I think it’s unfortunate now that they’ve forgotten their own story.”