One name that is never mentioned from the podium here at the Tampa convention is Congressman Todd Akin, the hyper-controversial GOP Senate nominee from Missouri. But in innumerable side conversations, lots of folks are talking about him.
Many Missouri delegates are furious at how Akin was treated by the GOP establishment after his controversial remarks about rape and pregnancy earlier this month. Others just wish people could move on and get to the campaign against Democratic senator Claire McCaskill. Representative Billy Long, a GOP congressman from Springfield, Mo., says that if he had to be bet, “I think that Todd Akin will continue in the race, and you are either with him or for Claire McCaskill.”
But behind-the-scenes efforts to figure out a way to have Akin exit from the Senate race before the final deadline of September 25 continue unabated. Mary Matalin, a former adviser to Dick Cheney, made some of those moves public this past Sunday on ABC’s This Week. She urged that Akin drop out, to be replaced by Ann Wagner, a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee, who is the GOP nominee for Akin’s vacant House seat.
Akin “may be dug in, but he’s not going to have a shovel to continuing digging, because he’s not going to have any money,” Matalin told ABC. “We’re going to win Missouri. Ann Wagner is going to end up being our candidate. The party is going to get Ann Wagner in.”
#more#Wagner aides hotly dispute that their candidate is involved in any negotiations about switching races. But sources close to Akin acknowledge that he is monitoring developments in the race, including campaign donations and his standing in the polls, and that it isn’t out of the question he will change his mind.
Should Akin decide that his sliding poll numbers — he now trails McCaskill by ten points and many of his own supporters want him to exit the race — dictate dropping out, he will certainly want a say in who replaces him. John Brunner, a wealthy businessman, and Sarah Steelman, a former state treasurer, both challenged him in the GOP primary and are viewed as unacceptable by Akin forces. On the other hand, Wagner is respected in the Akin camp and a sufficiently conservative presence to satisfy Tea Party members who are suspicious of anyone the Missouri GOP establishment might anoint.
Should Akin leave the race and be replaced by Wagner, both candidates would have to petition a court to get off the ballot before September 25. But state election laws would allow a swap in which Wagner took Akin’s place and he reclaimed the Republican nomination for his House seat. His current district leans strongly Republican; he would be likely to hold it against a Democratic opponent this fall.
“It’s clunky, but it would work so long as it doesn’t look like a back-room deal,” one Akin supporter who is a Missouri delegate told me. “Todd would be treated with dignity and could go back to the House and we would have a candidate with very strong skills who could beat McCaskill.”
Several influential social conservatives who met in Tampa before the RNC convention began are trying to talk Mike Huckabee, the 2008 presidential candidate whose endorsement boosted Akin to a surprise win in the Senate primary this year, to intervene. On primary night, Akin thanked God, his wife, and Mike Huckabee for his triumph. Since then, Huckabee has staunchly defended Akin and denounced the “shabby” treatment of him by party leaders.
But many Huckabee supporters are urging him to speak to Akin because his slipping poll numbers put at risk a key victory social conservatives need. God may not be available to call Todd Akin, but Mike Huckabee certainly is.