Rep. Todd Akin had no sooner won Missouri’s GOP Senate primary this month than he seemed eager to hand over the election to incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. Akin instantly became a national sensation with a shocking statement about how “legitimate rape” rarely results in pregnancy.
When confronted on his view regarding exceptions to a ban on abortions, Akin proceeded to show how to abort a Senate campaign in record time: “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 that whole thing down. . . But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. You know I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”
First there is the distinction between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” rape that is too twisted to contemplate. Then there is Akin’s rather bizarre view of the female body and the existence of some type of kill switch in cases of rape within every woman.
Akin is a six-term U.S. congressman who probably could have drifted to a win in Missouri. Polls showed him a heavy favorite against McCaskill who is unpopular with many in Missouri as well as Washington. Akin, 65, was backed by former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and supported by many in the Tea Party. Akin was able to secure 36 percent of the vote against businessman John G. Brunner with 30 percent and former state treasurer Sarah Steelman with 29 percent. Steelman was the favorite of Sarah Palin and many in the Tea Party. Despite the tough primary, Akin was leading McCaskill in the polls.
That changed in a flash and he succeeded in moving a state from an expected win for the GOP into the doubtful column — assuming he does not withdraw from the race. Both Romney and Ryan have publicly criticized the comment. McCaskill appears to relish the thought of becoming the second most unpopular candidate in a two-person race. She has refused to call for Akin to step down and said that it would be a radical step to replace a candidate who just won the primary. Republicans however have lined up to condemn the statements and call for Akin to withdraw from the race.
Akin’s attempt to walk back from the comments was almost as awkward — claiming that he “misspoke” about rape. Here is the statement:
“As a member of Congress, I believe that working to protect the most vulnerable in our society is one of my most important responsibilities, and that includes protecting both the unborn and victims of sexual assault. In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year. Those who perpetrate these crimes are the lowest of the low in our society and their victims will have no stronger advocate in the Senate to help ensure they have the justice they deserve.
“I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action. I also recognize that there are those who, like my opponent, support abortion and I understand I may not have their support in this election.”
Akin does not address the medical side of the comment or even explain what he meant about legitimate rape.
“Misspoke” is a remarkably flexible term to cover any statement where, according to Merriam-Webster, you can claim that you “expressed (oneself) imperfectly or incorrectly.” Of course, there remains the cause for such misspeak. It is one thing to get a date wrong or a country wrong or even a description of some past event. Here however Akin drew a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate rape and then proceeded to offer a medical claim that is almost medieval in character.
Here is the clip showing the “misspeech”:
Given the polarized situation in Missouri, this does not necessarily mean that McCaskill will win. However, with the GOP already struggling with the female vote, this is comment is likely to be played back in an endless loop. The question is the degree of pressure from the Romney campaign to get Akin to step aside given the possible drag on the ticket in November.