Todd Akin was never supposed to be a U.S. Congressman. If 56 voters of his hadn’t braved the rain on a primary election day in August 2000, his name would only be recognizable to a select few.
“My base will show up in earthquakes,” Akin famously proclaimed on election night
When the U.S. Congressional district encompassing Akin’s Missouri State House district opened up in 2000, the 12 year state representative entered his name. It was unknown to most. Akin was one of five Republicans to enter the primary. The race was made for Gene McNary, the former four-term St. Louis County Executive, who left the post midway through his fourth term in 1989 to serve as George H.W. Bush’s Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization Services. It was also McNary’s race to lose, and Akin was there to seize the upset.
From his first days in the Missouri legislature, Akin portrayed himself skeptical of the Republican establishment. He had four opponents, but Akin built a campaign on taking on McNary. Yet, Akin not only trailed McNary’s stature, but also that of Missouri State Senator Franc Flotron.
“We felt like there was someone we had to beat and that was Gene McNary,” Akin said.
While Akin didn’t possess name recognition, he did have something else: a deep and loyal base. During his time in the state legislature, Akin forged a strong backing from his district’s evangelical Christians along with the local homeschooling contingent. As a homeschooling parent himself, Akin made it an issue of his own in Jefferson City.
A rainy day yielded only 17 percent voter turnout in the primary election, and Akin’s base delivered a win. He edged out McNary with 25.9 percent of the vote. Akin prevailed by only 56 votes. Four of the five primary candidates received 18 percent or more of the votes.
Akin won the safe-Republican district in the general election with 55.3 percent of the vote.
“When I have a chance to talk and get to know people, they know I’m a straight shooter,” Akin said, when discussing his 2000 campaign. “(Voters) know I’m not making deals and that I have a deep love for our country.”
Akin won five more terms in Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District. After 2000, he never faced a primary opponent while receiving between 61.3 and 67.9 percent of the vote in each general election. This success fueled his bid for the U.S. Senate in 2012.
Akin’s story is one of political timing. In a 20 minute interview on Tuesday, Akin spoke about his new book, Firing Back: Taking on Party Bosses and Media Elite to protect our Faith and Freedom, and his political past as well.
Akin, 67, didn’t enter political office until 1988, a year after his 40th birthday. He spent his 20s and 30s studying engineering in college, working in his family’s steel mill, and studying in seminary. When talking about life before politics, he mentions working long hours in the steel mill and his decision to go to seminary, not chasing political aspirations.
Akin was long an evangelical Christian conservative before his was a politician. He was deeply involved in the pro-life movement of the 1970s and 80s. He was arrested at least three times during demonstrations. On the Missouri state floor from 1998 to 2000, he pushed a conservative agenda with a focus on restricting abortion rights. Missouri Governor Mel Carnaharn dubbed Akin as an “anti-abortion extremist” in 1995 when Akin added an amendment onto a bill which disallowed school nurses from informing students about abortion options.
While the stage was bigger, Akin brought the same agenda to the DC. On the U.S. House floor, he was the same solid conservative he was in the Missouri capitol, which left him on the fringe of the House Republican caucus.
Akin talked of being “sent to serve” by his district and bucking what he called the party bosses. Akin’s most notable House floor speech was in 2008, when he called abortion “un-American” and even “more so” than slavery. The only congressional bill he ever authored was the Pledge Protection Act, which sought to protect the Pledge of Allegiance from constitutional challenges.
As a self-described Reagan conservative, Akin said he was always a “minority” in Congress. When asked whether he was a Tea Partier before the movement existed, Akin said he was “in some ways.” He likened himself to the Tea Party in that it “tend[s] to have [its] focus on what’s good for the country.”
Akin is the product of the base that voted him into office. He talked about stressing constituent service while in the House, further growing his loyal base.
“We tried to do what was right, and we tried to be respectful of people that were our constituents,” he noted. “When people came to D.C., I tried to stop what I was doing and go see them.”
When he ran for U.S. Senate in 2012, Akin remarked about having to build his district’s base into a statewide enterprise. In a tight 3-way primary reminiscent of his U.S. House primary of 2000, Akin was considered the odd man out. Polls indicated former Missouri Secretary of State Sarah Steelman and political outsider John Brunner held the edge over the six-term congressman.
In a flashback of 2000, it was the underdog Akin celebrating on election night. Yet again, Akin and his base shook the political guard in Missouri.
Akin is hesitant to accept the underdog mantra. When asked if he’d relish that title, he initially brushed it off. Then, he said it actually depends.
“If you are talking about in the GOP establishment, I probably would,” he said.