Who will stick with Todd Akin?

Todd Akin, refusing to bow out of the Missouri Senate race, is appealing to social conservatives, religious pro-family groups, and high-profile politicos to try to steer his campaign back on course.

Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP
In this Aug. 7 file photo, Todd Akin, GOP Senate candidate from Missouri celebrates winning the primary at his campaign party at the Columns Banquet Center in St. Charles, Mo.

The purse strings have tightened as Rep. Todd Akin has defied top Republicans, staying in the Missouri Senate race amid controversy over his views on rape and abortion.

The Senate campaign committee has revoked the $5 million it designated for Representative Akin, and key fundraising events have been canceled. Republican operators like Karl Rove have withdrawn support from Akin’s campaign.

So who will stick with him?

In a bid to steer his campaign back on course, Akin has begun appealing to social conservatives, religious pro-family groups, and high-profile politicos (even if publicly, they’re steering clear of him right now).

A sign that his appeals could work: The Boone County Republican Central Committee, which is representative of Missouri’s more-moderate demographics, declined on Tuesday night to call for Akin to step down.

Also, for now at least, polls show him still ahead of the embattled incumbent in the race – Sen. Claire McCaskill, a “blue dog” Democrat who earned the nickname “Obama-Claire” after backing national health-care reform.

How Missourians are reacting “is sort of hard to know, because the harsh glare of the national spotlight has made it difficult to see what’s happening locally,” says Marvin Overby, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. “But the fact is, time has a healing effect, and it’s hard to imagine hard-bitten, hard-nosed Republican operatives [staying] angry at Akin if it looks like he could still win.”

Professor Overby adds, “He’s got this very rabid base of supporters who are going to turn out for him come hell or flash floods.”

At least right now, this Senate seat is arguably the most important one in America. Who wins it could determine which party has control of the Senate in January.

Akin has apologized several times for insinuating that women usually don’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape,” a statement that was taken by many Americans to be as much about his views on women and sex as on abortion.

The remarks have been political gold for Senator McCaskill, who has sometimes struggled to connect with her constituents. The dust-up should help her raise money and could pad an already formidable lead in fundraising over Akin.

For the Akin camp, the big question, for the moment at least, is whether his campaign will be able to raise enough cash to fight a defensive TV ad war in the high-dollar Kansas City and St. Louis media markets.

Bill Hillsman, a veteran campaign consultant in Minneapolis, sees some fundraising potential for Akin.

His decision to stay “has less to do with social conservatives in Missouri and more to do with a calculation that national money will come back to him,” he says. “If the Republicans are stuck with him, they’re not going to abandon him, because it’s Missouri.”

But Akin might not be dependent on national money, Overby says. “You ... have to remember he was outspent 5 to 1 in the primaries, so he’s not as reliant on big campaign donations as” an average candidate, he says.

But Akin’s appeals to conservatives could run aground if another brewing development – GOP kingmaker Sarah Palin agitating for a possible third-party ballot challenge – comes to fruition.

“If this thing is going to be thrown into a jump-ball situation [between two damaged candidates], if they could get somebody on the ballot running as an alternative, [that candidate] could have a serious chance of winning with not even that much money,” Mr. Hillsman says.

Depending on how polls and fundraising pan out in the next few weeks, Akin could still drop out of the race. According to Missouri law, he could withdraw as late as Sept. 25 by petitioning a state court. But that petition could be challenged by Missouri’s secretary of State, and a court case could dredge up the controversy just over a month before the election.

Despite the candidate’s defiance, that option remains open, political analysts say.

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