By Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog
ST. LOUIS – We’ll soon know which Republicans are playing poker with the U.S. Senate race in Missouri.
After U.S. Rep. Todd Akin’s controversial comments about rape and pregnancy in August, many party leaders, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said the Wildwood GOP candidate should drop out.
He has until Tuesday to leave the race, but Akin has given every indication that he plans to fight on through November, where he would face Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill in the general election.
After his comments, Akin lost the financial backing of deep-pocketed groups that included the Republican National Committee and the Crossroads superPAC. But will those organizations really refuse to support a Republican in a key race for taking control of the Senate?
Were those groups really showing their hand, or were they bluffing in an effort to get Akin out of the race?
George Connor, head of the political science department at Missouri State University, said it will be a tough spot for those GOP bigwigs because they’re on record as pulling that funding.
“I think at the end of the day the Republicans will be hard pressed not to support Akin win the seat they need to get the Senate back,” he told Missouri Watchdog.
Akin raised more than $2 million for his race before the primary, but spent nearly all of it defeating GOP challenger John Brunner and Sarah Steelman.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus pledged Sunday morning on ABC’s “This Week” that he would not support Akin.
“We’re not going to play in Missouri with Todd Akin,” he said. “I can tell you that.”
The St. Louis-Post Dispatch reported that Akin has raised another $600,000 in recent weeks from small donations through online and email appeals. Newt Gingrich was stumping for Akin on Monday at a $500-a-ticket fundraiser.
“I believe the state of the campaign is looking better and better,” Akin said Friday afternoon, following a debate with McCaskill and a rally with his new women-for-Akin coalition.
That’s debatable, say election forecasters.
The New York Times’ political blog gives Akin a 40-percent chance to win a race that once seemed a shoo-in for the Republicans. Writer Nate Silver criticized McCaskill for her positions supporting President Barack Obama in a red-leaning state.
“In a sense, this is a race that neither candidate ought to win,” he writes.
The Washington Post once ranked Missouri among the five most likely states to impact control of the U.S. Senate. Now it’s not even in the top 10.
Connor noted that other states with close Senate races, including Massachusetts and Virginia, are starting to tip toward the Democratic candidates.
“I think they’re going to look at Missouri as one of the states they’re going to have to focus on,” he said of the GOP.
Connor said he could see Akin bolstering his campaign funds without tapping into the Republican establishment, with national right-to-life groups and tea party supporters extending a funding lifeline.
Rick Tyler, a former Gingrich campaign aide who is now working with the Akin campaign, said plenty of potential donors have “sat on the sidelines” waiting for the drop-out deadline to pass.
“We are tilling that hard soil now — that is, reaching out to people who could potentially give significant amounts of dollars,” he said.
On the other hand, Connor said he could see Akin lose that potential support if the national picture becomes murkier for the GOP in the next month. Polls are beginning to show President Barack Obama as more likely to win re-election, and Democrats with a strong chance to keep the Senate.
“I could see them saying, ‘Why should I throw money at Akin when we have no chance to take control of the Senate?’” Connor said.