Latest abortion flap dims Republican hopes for SenateAugust 22, 2012 3:50 PM
The Republican establishment's outrage over the Todd Akin debacle is about much more than just one Senate candidate saying things about abortion that he says he now regrets.
In the resulting foofaraw, the party sees its chance to take control of the U.S. Senate - a primary objective for November - evaporating.
Winning the Missouri Senate race against Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill was a very big part of that plan.
Republicans are looking for a net gain of four seats to have a majority in the Senate, something they thought was very do-able given the poor state of the economy and the particular races this election year.
There are 100 seats in the U.S. Senate and right now Democrats hold 51, Republicans 47; there are also two independents who caucus with the Democrats.
More importantly, of the 33 Senate contests up for grabs this year, 21 of them are currently held by Democrats, some of them seemingly quite vulnerable. (One-third of the Senate stands for re-election every two years.)
But here's the problem. Knock down one of the winnable dominos (Missouri) and you see the others start to wobble, particularly as the Democrats have been doing their bit to contribute to what they call the Republican's anti-women stance, as reflected in the initial Akin comments about "legitimate rape."
A Tea Party-backed, six-term congressman now running for the Senate, Akin was giving his views on outlawing all abortion in a TV interview when he said that in cases of "legitimate rape" a woman's body can somehow block any pregnancy.
He later retracted what he said and apologized, but the issue wouldn't go away, particularly as a Republican committee passed a platform plank on Tuesday calling for a constitutional amendment to protect unborn children - with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest or the health of the mother.
Democrats quickly labelled it the "Akin plank," which immediately put Mitt Romney's presidential campaign on the defensive.
Romney quickly distanced himself from Akin's initial views. But at the same time he wanted to make it clear that a Romney administration would be anti-abortion, while making exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, or where the life of the mother is at risk.
A complicating factor, though, is that Romney's new vice-presidential running mate, Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, is also a very strong anti-abortion advocate and co-sponsored (with Todd Akin and 225 other members of the House of Representatives) recent legislative attempts to - like the new Republican platform proposal - criminalize all abortion.
Ryan now says he will follow Romney's lead on this issue. But the longer Akin defies the Republican establishment and stays in the race, the longer the Republican stance on controversial social issues will stay in the national screaming match, errrr, conversation.
Republican strategists are very aware that their uncompromising stand on issues like abortion and women's rights is a very BIG weak spot with voters; and they would much rather be highlighting the economy where they score much higher in the polls than Obama and the Democrats.
So, stay or go, win or lose, Todd Akin has made a national name for himself, and a national mess for his party.