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Todd Akin’s colossal gaffe could be a game-changer

Pundits had started to write off Sen. Claire McCaskill’s chances of winning a second term. Not now.

Sen. Claire McCaskill's chances of political survival may have become more favorable after a major gaffe by her opponent, Rep. Todd Akin.
REUTERS/Benjamin Myers

A macaca moment?

The pundits had started to write off Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-Mo.) chances of winning a second term this year. Her Repub opponent, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, led in all recent polls and by a staggering 11 points in the most recent. The likely Repub pickup seemed fairly crucial to the chances of Repubs taking over control of the Senate.

Rep. Todd Akin

Then came a colossal gaffe by Akin Sunday in an interview (bearing in mind the humorous-but-often-true definition of a gaffe as what happens when a politician accidentally says what he really thinks).

Akin is 100 percent opposed to abortion even in the circumstances that cause most “pro-lifers” to make an exception – the cause of a pregnancy caused by a rape. When asked about this on a St. Louis TV station Sunday, Akin said that pregnancies from rape are “really rare” because based on what Akin said he “understands from doctors” that “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Akin has not elucidated the categories of legitimate versus illegitimate rape. Until he does so (and the smart money says he never will), I take him to be suggesting that many women who became pregnant during consensual sex later claimed to have been raped, perhaps to cover up their slutty behavior or perhaps to justify seeking an abortion.

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But, if Akin has his way, even a women impregnated during a legitimate rape should not have legal access to an abortion. “Let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something,” Akin said, referring to the mechanism by which the female is able to shut down its normal processes. “I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”

Gaffes occur often in politics, but this one seems to be up there. It’s rare, but not unprecedented, for a race to turn completely based on a horrid word choice or, in this case, an ill-advised moment of candor. But this could be one.

Akin is asking for permission to take it back, based on the classic “I misspoke” explanation (although you’ll note that he still thinks rape victims should be denied abortions). His official statement goes like this:

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. 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.

The Romney campaign disavowed Akin’s statement. Romney does not oppose abortion in cases of rape.

The Christian Science Monitor noted that conservative commentators – including Reihan Salam of National Review and John McCormack of  The Weekly Standard – immediately called on Akin to drop out of the race.

Akin won the Repub nomination with 36 percent of the vote in a close three-way primary.