For political reporters who covered Todd Akin, the news Sunday that the former Republican U.S. Representative from Missouri died brought back vivid memories of what was easily the most reported and turbulent U.S. Senate race of 2012.
Six-termer Akin, who was 74 at the time of his death, had won a hard-fought primary with 36% over three opponents. In part, his win was due to the fervent grass roots campaigning by fellow evangelical conservatives and pro-life activists.
But some Show-Me State Republicans felt that Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill had a hand in Akin’s triumph. Although McCaskill had no primary opponent, her campaign deployed some $2 million on TV advertising before the primary slamming Akin as “too conservative” for Missouri.
“That’s just what Republican primary voters wanted to hear — that McCaskill thought Todd was ‘too conservative’ — and that helped him,” recalled one former Republican state official who voted for one of Akin’s primary opponents. “He was the opponent she wanted.”
Once Akin emerged triumphant from the primary, polls showed him leading McCaskill and his candidacy was strongly backed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Then came what is remembered by Missouri Republicans as simply “The Interview.” Appearing on KTVI-TV (St. Louis), Akin was asked why he opposed abortion in cases of rape.
“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” he replied. “But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”
BANG! Those two words —”legitimate rape”— were seized upon by the liberal media and Democrats. Charges were flung that the Republican Senate nominee felt some women were untruthful in claiming they were raped, or that he felt there were cases of rape that were justified.
Coming a week before the Republican National Convention, Akin’s word led Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney to repudiate his ticketmate in Missouri. As the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) reversed its support of Akin, cries went out in Missouri for him to resign the nomination and let the Republican State Committee select a nominee.
“We had some very positive feedback from [former Sen. and onetime U.S. Attorney General] John Ashcroft,” then-State GOP Chairman Ed Martin recalled to The Patriot Depot. “John would be willing to run and would almost surely have beaten McCaskill. But Todd had to first get off the ticket and that was the problem.”
For a time after he made his controversial statement, Akin was at the Columbus, Ohio, home of his consultant Rex Elsass and incommunicado.
One who did reach him was his friend and early supporter, former Arkansas Gov. and 2008 presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee.
“I never advised him to quit,” Huckabee told The Patriot Depot. “I told him it was his decision and if he stayed in, I’d stay with him. He was treated horribly by the Republican leadership and they let him to bleed to death. I’m still angry that instead of offering him a lifeline they offered him a noose.”
Akin then went on television, apologized for his earlier words, and said he was staying in the race.
“Rape was an evil act,” he said, reminding viewers he was the father of two daughters. “I used the wrong words in the wrong way and for that I apologize. … The mistake I made was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness.”
But forgiveness was not forthcoming from national Republicans, and neither was the funding he needed to be competitive against McCaskill.
His words and the furor they created drew international coverage. Laure Mandeville, correspondent for the venerable French publication Le Figaro, spent several days in Missouri reporting on the Senate race the world seemed to be watching.
As Romney was sweeping Missouri’s electoral votes, McCaskill beat Akin by 54.7% to 32.9%.
A graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute and U.S. Army National Guardsman, the young Akin got into the computer industry in its infancy and was a successful IBM salesman.
His Christian faith led him to earn an advanced degree from the Covenant Theological Seminary, where he studied scriptures in ancient Greek and Hebrew.
He became a vigorous pro-life activist. Wife Lulli was active in the homeschool movement and all six of the Akin children were homeschooled. With fervent support from those two bastions of cultural conservatism, Akin won a seat in the state House of Representatives in 1988.
Twelve years later, when the 2nd District (Greater St. Louis) opened up, Akin was one of five Republicans vying for the all-important GOP nomination. In a major upset, Akin won by a wafer-thin 56 votes over front-runner and former St. Louis County Executive Gene McNary.
A few years after leaving Congress, Akin got the last word in the unforgettable Senate race. He wrote in a memoir that he regretted his apology because it “validated the willful misinterpretation of what I had said” and then charged Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Roy Blunt of Missiouri, and other “establishment Republicans” of wanting “to take [me] out and select someone more palatable to their tastes.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for The Patriot Depot. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.