By Kirsten Adshead and Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
At least it seems that Wisconsin’s U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-1st District, is Target No. 1.
Republicans “should be somewhat worried,” Marquette University political scientist John McAdams said.
“All they can do is distance themselves from (Akin’s c omment), and all of them have,” he said. “If (presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt) Romney or Ryan says something stupid, however, it might spill over into House or Senate races.”
Still, McAdams said, “If Democrats are going to try to exploit this, it probably won’t work well for them. Democrats making a big issue out of it could be counter-productive. It could do more harm than good among pro-life Democrats or pro-life independents. In that sense, it’s a bit of a tempest issue.”
The Akin controversy stems from the Missouri congressman’s response Sunday to an interviewer’s question about abortion rights for rape victims.
Akin, now infamously, said this:
“It seems to me, first of all, 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 the whole thing down.”
Wisconsin Republicans were quick to denounce Akin’s comment, en masse.
Everyone from Gov. Scott Walker to U.S. Senate candidate and former Gov. Tommy Thompson to Ryan has called for Akin to get out of the U.S. Senate race, in which he’s trying to oust incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.
“It’s very atypical,” Mark Graul, a Republican strategist, said of outside Republicans calling for the Missourian to step down. “But what Akin said was so outrageous that it was the kind of thing Republicans want to make it very clear: ‘Todd Akin doesn’t represent what we think.’ He ought to step aside and let someone else run. I think it makes it very clear that Todd Akin is on an island.”
But Akin’s comment, coupled with his decision to stay in the Senate race, thus far has been a gift for Democrats.
Not only does Akin’s candidacy likely boost Democrats’ chances of holding on to the seat and, ultimately, control of the U.S. Senate, but his comments have reinvigorated the argument that the GOP is waging a “war on women,” an issue that had died down a bit since the Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke issue last spring.
Democrats around the country are trying hard to tie Akin to the broader GOP and to specific Republican candidates.
Wisconsin’s own Ryan, though, appears to be dogged more than most on the issue — and not just because, as Romney’s choice for vice president, Ryan is a bigger target:
- Ryan and Akin both oppose rape and incest exceptions for abortion, although Ryan has said he will support Romney’s stance in favor of the exemptions.
- Ryan and Akin both co-sponsored House Resolution 5939 in 2010, which would have banned all taxpayer-funded abortions except in cases of “forcible rape.”
- Ryan profusely praised Akin last November when the Missouri lawmaker declared his Senate candidacy, saying in a joint news release with other House leaders, “Todd Akin has been a great asset to the House Budget Committee. … His principled approach to fiscal responsibility is exactly the kind of leadership America needs and I appreciate his hard work.”
Maggie Brickerman, executive director of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, emailed a fundraising request Wednesday linking Akin, Ryan and the national Republican Party’s newly coined platform supporting a nationwide ban on abortions with no exceptions for rape or incest.
“On Monday, when news of Rep. Todd Akin’s terrible statements about victims of rape was breaking, I commented that I didn’t believe Paul Ryan when he said a Romney-Ryan administration wouldn’t oppose abortion in cases of rape. Sometimes I hate being right,” Brickerman wrote.
“Paul Ryan and his friends have finally hit rock bottom with their extreme plans to limit healthcare choices for women, and what makes it even worse is that they are being dishonest about it,” she wrote.
The Akin issue arrives at a time that, otherwise, might be a pretty good one for the GOP.
The Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times poll released Thursday shows President Obama and Romney neck-and-neck in Wisconsin and two other swing states, Ohio and Florida.
The Marquette University poll results announced Wednesday show that the race here has tightened from a 5-percentage point lead for Obama a few weeks ago to a 3-point lead following the Ryan announcement.
The Republican National Convention begins Monday in Tampa, Fla. It’s an opportunity for the GOP to showcase their candidates and plans for the country, although Democrats may trample on any post-convention Republican bump when they hold their own convention next month in Charlotte, N.C.
And the Congressional Budget Office warned Wednesday that massive spending cuts and tax hikes due to be made next year will lead the United States into a “significant recession,” without congressional action.
While that’s ominous news for the country as a whole, the CBO report gives Republicans an opening to pivot to the issue they’d like to be discussing this week, including the Obama administration’s inability to lead the country out of its economic malaise.
Economic stagnation could be the political topic du jour – if, that is, Republicans weren’t being dragged down by one of their own.
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank reported Thursday that Ryan has been unable to escape the Akin questions on the campaign trail.
“(Ryan), chosen for his green-eyeshade savvy, has unexpectedly become a lightning rod in the culture wars, in an area where Republicans are at a decided disadvantage,” Milbank wrote. “Only 20 percent of Americans agree with Ryan and Akin that abortion should be illegal in all cases, according to a Gallup poll in May.”
Even if Romney and Ryan escape fallout from the Akin controversy, even if they win Wisconsin, the damage in Missouri alone may be enough to curtail GOP hopes in November.
“It’s possible that it could hurt this guy (Akin) in this Senate race, and that can have large consequences,” Marquette’s McAdams said. “It’s possible his stupid comment could cost Republicans control of the Senate. Whether it will harm other Republicans or the Romney campaign is a different matter.”
Contact Kirsten Adshead at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Ryan Ekvall at email@example.com.