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Takin’ Akin’s Bacon

August 21, 2012

Anyone who’s been awake for at least five minutes since Sunday morning knows that Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin thinks that rape victims don’t get pregnant:  “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”  Akin thus gave voice to both a long-standing ultra-pro-life canard about rape and an even longer-standing mystification of women and their strange powers.  Very pre-modern; very pre-Enlightenment.

The Republican establishment is in a bona fide panic – not because Akin’s views on abortion, or on women, are too far out there for them, but because Akin referred to “legitimate rape,” as if there are serious rapes and sort-of-silly rapes.  Democrats are eager to spend the week before the Republican national convention talking about anything but the economy.  The Republicans are being cooperative about it – with impeccable timing, the party’s platform committee today approved an anti-abortion plank omitting any exception for rape victims.  The parties’ relative positions on abortion and women’s health care is a pretty pro-Democratic choice of subject switches, especially while a now-prominent Republican is making such misogynistic news.  The last thing Democrats want is for Akin to bow out of the Missouri Senate race, and this afternoon, at least for now, Todd Akin obliged them.

It’s been just a couple of days since Akin made his offensive remarks, so there isn’t any polling yet to tell us whether Akin has single-handedly assured that Democrats will retain control of the Senate. RealClearPolitics rates nine Senate races as toss-ups.  Interestingly, three of the nine toss-up races have not been polled since mid-July, and a fourth hasn’t been polled since mid-June.

There is one post-“legitimate rape” poll – taken yesterday in the Missouri Senate race by Public Policy Polling.  PPP found that Akin has a one-point lead over incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill.  PPP concluded that Missouri voters, including Republicans, are “appalled” by Akin’s comments, and hold much less favorable opinions of him now than before, but are not significantly less likely to vote for him on November 6.

It’s improbable that yesterday’s poll is the last word.  In Missouri, it is certain that opinion about Akin will evolve in the next few weeks.  Nationally, liberal commentators have eagerly pointed out that Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and indeed the Republican Party itself oppose abortions even when pregnancy results from rape. We can assume that every Democratic House or Senate candidate across the country is figuring out ways to tag the opposing Republican with the concept of “legitimate rape.”

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