Although right-wing Tea Party Republicans are rallying around U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin, his poll numbers are sliding among likely Missouri voters.
A poll released on Thursdayby Republican group Rasmussen Reports gave Claire McCaskill a 10-point lead over Akin. Before his controversial rape comments, other polls had shown him with an 11-point lead over the incumbent.
But he and his fervent right-wing followers are fighting back.
Akin, 65, has defied calls from GOP leaders, including Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, to step aside after claiming that women's bodies have natural defenses against pregnancy from “legitimate rape.” The furor resulting from that statement threw Romney’s campaign off message just days before the Republican convention. Major right-wing, third-party groups have pulled millions in campaign advertising for Akin.
But there’s a backlash in Akin’s suburban St. Louis congressional district, where supporters said the national party had no right to attempt to force out a duly elected candidate. They say that they’re outraged that “establishment” Republican Party leaders are trying to railroad their Tea Party candidate out of the race.
These backers say that Akin is the “real deal,” a far-right leader politician committed to their social causes, such as opposition to marriage equality and abortion.
Akin has seized has launched a campaign called “Help Todd Fight Back Against the Party Bosses.” This week alone, the fundraising drive claims to have netted $100,000 in small donations.
But the six-term congressman will need much more than that to replenish a campaign account already diminished by a hotly contested primary.
“It’s very difficult, when you have the limited base we have in Missouri, to send emails out asking for $3 at a time,” Pat Thomas, secretary of the Missouri Republican State Committee, told The Associated Press. “I don't know how to build a war chest to do that.”
Akin now has to go forward without the firepower of well-funded political groups that had planned to pummel Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill with negative television ads.
If his money runs dry, Akin could confront a difficult choice: re-evaluate whether to remain in the race or adopt a bare-bones strategy relying on social media and right-wing activists to counter the millions of dollars of mass media advertising expected from McCaskill and her allies.
First, Akin has to repair his reputation with moderate Republicans.
Federal records show Akin has purchased enough airtime to run apology ads in Missouri's biggest TV markets through at least Monday. Akin’s campaign said Thursday that it has spent more than $200,000 on the statewide apology commercials while ad trackers for his Democratic opposition described it as a $277,000 effort.
He's also working to mend fences. On Thursday, Akin attended a meeting of the conservative Council for National Policy in Tampa, Fla., site of the Republican National Convention, which he has agreed not to attend. He tweeted that his Wednesday fundraising goal had been met.
“Thousands of people stepped up and helped us raise over $100,000! The message is clear ... voters should pick candidates, not party bosses,” Akin said.
He then sent out a new fundraising email asking supporters to chip in $5 toward a goal of raising an additional $25,000. Earlier in the week, he pleaded for $3 donations.
Former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee also issued a fundraising plea for Akin on Thursday, accusing the “Republican establishment” of a “carefully orchestrated and systematic attack.” If the national GOP and the “money-rich” political action committees “won't help Todd Akin get us to the majority, then we'll do it without them,” Huckabee wrote.
After winning the primary, Akin gained quick backing from national Republican and conservative groups focused on ousting McCaskill. But that support evaporated after Akin was asked in an interview that aired Sunday on St. Louis television station KTVI whether his general opposition to abortion extended to women who have been raped.
"From what I understand from doctors, that's really rare,” Akin said in the interview. “If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Since his comments, Akin has received numerous threats against him, his family and his staff, said Akin’s congressional spokesman Steve Taylor. The U.S. Capitol Police confirmed Thursday that it has "an active, open investigation" into a threat against Akin.