Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, one of the most vulnerable incumbents this cycle, just caught a break after her Republican opponent, Rep. Todd Akin, provoked bipartisan outrage for saying that “legitimate rape” victims do not get pregnant.
On Sunday, explaining his position on abortion in cases of rape, Akin said: “from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Akin walked back the comments, saying that he had “misspoke,” but offered no clarification.
Fellow Republicans quickly denounced Akin.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was particularly biting in his rebuke.
“[Akin's] comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong,” Romney told National Review Online. “Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive.”
Other Republican Senate candidates went on the offensive against Akin. Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown called for Akin to drop his Senate candidacy.
“As a husband and father of two young women, I found Todd Akin’s comments about women and rape outrageous, inappropriate and wrong,” Brown said in a statement. “There is no place in our public discourse for this type of offensive thinking. Not only should he apologize, but I believe Rep. Akin’s statement was so far out of bounds that he should resign the nomination for US Senate in Missouri.”
Montana Republican Senate candidate and fellow member of the House of Representatives Denny Rehberg also attacked the comments.
“As a pro-life conservative, a husband, and a father of two young women, I find Representative Akin’s remarks to be offensive and reprehensible,” he said in a statement. “There is no such thing as a ‘legitimate rape.’ I condemn Representative Akin’s statements in the strongest possible terms.”
Former Florida Republican Rep. Joe Scarborough, speaking on “Morning Joe” Monday, declared McCaskill the winner of the race, lamenting: “This is a Republican Party that does not want to win the majority. They want to keep shooting themselves in the foot.”
“Akin’s blunder has greatly improved McCaskill’s odds of holding her seat,” Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Missouri, said in an email to The Daily Caller.
“She has been making the case that Akin is too conservative even for Missouri, and Akin has been giving her plenty of ammunition,” said Squire. “Comments along these lines make it easier for her to make the inroads she needs in the suburban counties that lean toward the Republicans.”
But others cautioned that it is far too soon to write Akin off.
“I’ve been struck how everyone is writing an obituary for Akin based upon his comments over the weekend about abortion as well as some prior controversial comments,” Trey Grayson, director of the Harvard Institute of Politics, told TheDC. “Make no mistake they were really bad politically on many level. But let’s not forget Missouri is a state that is become more reliably Republican in recent years and McCaskill has problems of her own making (not paying taxes on her private airplane).”
“In an election year dominated by economic messages and in a state that Romney is expected to win easily, I wouldn’t write him off so quickly. Certainly it makes the race more winnable for McCaskill, but it doesn’t make it a slam dunk for her. Missouri isn’t Delaware or even Colorado where the margin for error for GOP candidates is small,” he added.
But Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report cautioned that regardless of where Akin stood, “The label of ‘most vulnerable’ is more about McCaskill than whoever her opponent is.”
“That said, Akin’s comment makes it much easier for McCaskill and Democrats to make this race about Akin, which is exactly what needs to happen for McCaskill to win,” she said. “His comments are difficult to walk back or rationalize and will be deeply offensive even to many Republican voters.”