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Todd Akin: the best opponent a corporate Democrat could buy

Posted by Thomas Nephew on August 22nd, 2012

In the so-called false good Samaritan con, one con artist first creates a problem (e.g., steals a wallet, lets rats loose in the neighborhood), then another rides to the rescue (e.g., retrieves the wallet, offers pest control services) and demands a reward.  Something similar is happening in Missouri’s Senate race: a created problem, a less than fully deserved reward.

Over the weekend, Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin repeated a revealing, reprehensible, and medically false statement* popular among pro-forced birthers about how “legitimate” (read: forcible) rape was somehow different from other rape and was less likely to lead to conception.  He has since compounded the insult by saying what he really meant was that women often lie about rape.  The result has been a well-deserved firestorm of disapproval, thereby considerably boosting beleaguered incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill’s chances: one poll showed Akin losing 8 points overnight, dropping him into a statistical tie with Senator McCaskill.

The thing is, though, that Akin became the Republican candidate with help from… Claire McCaskill and the Democratic Party.  On August 8, Sunlight Foundation’s Keenan Steiner reported:

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Democratic outside groups, pouring in over $1 million during Missouri’s Republican Senate primary, got the guy they wanted: Rep. Todd Akin, who Tuesday upset two other Republicans to take the GOP nomination.

The thinking was he was more beatable by Democrats than the Republican frontrunners he defeated. So as Akin portrayed himself as the most conservative candidate to Republican primary voters, McCaskill ran ads agreeing with him.

Now Akin is definitely a misogynist moron. But that’s what makes him so very useful to nebbishy corporate-Democratic politicians like Claire McCaskill, who among other things sponsored “CAP Act” legislation essentially putting Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block, who helped kill an “audit the Fed” bill for bailout transparency, and who boasts companies like Monsanto, Boeing, and (wait for it) Bain Capital among her top 20 campaign contributors.  If it weren’t for crazy Akin, a lot of people would notice McCaskill looks a lot like a Republican herself. And as another Missourian once said, “if it’s a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time.”

So let’s get off our high horses about Akin for maybe just a minute or two, and not pretend real Democrats and/or progressives benefit much when Democratic backroom political decisions court disasters like him.

First of all, of course, Akin might still hang in there and win.  What does that say about Democrats stewardship of women’s reproductive rights as opposed to stewardship of Senate seats?  Should running this kind of risk really commend McCaskill to her number one contributor: Emily’s List?

But focusing on extremists like Akin also lets McCaskill and elected Democrats like her avoid defending, discussing, or above all recalibrating their own conservatism: they don’t need to.   To the extent rank and file Democrats have one or two other issues on their minds every six years besides post-rape abortions, that’s an important opportunity lost for those voters, and an all-too useful pass for their Senator.

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UPDATE, 9/8: Don’t Look Now But Todd Akin Has Crept Back Into the Missouri Senate Race (Voorhies, Slate): “McCaskill enjoyed leads of nine and ten points in a pair of polls taken last month as Akin was being hit from all sides. But the two most recent polls show a different story, with Akin clawing his way back within one point of the Missouri Democrat in the (liberal-leaning) PPP survey and into a three-point lead in the (conservative-leaning) Wenzel Strategies poll.”

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