Will Todd Akin's 'legitimate rape' remarks damage the entire GOP?

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NBC’s First Read:

by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Brooke Brower.

 FIRST THOUGHTS.

*** Akin it worse: Missouri Senate GOP nominee Todd Akins remarks on rape yesterday not only could endanger the Republicans chances in that particular race as well as their chances of taking back the Senate in the fall, they also could further damage the GOPs brand with women. In an interview with a Missouri TV station, Akin explained his opposition to abortion, even in instances of rape. “First of all, from what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If its a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” Akin said, per NBCNews.coms Mike OBrien. “But lets assume that maybe that didnt work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.” His Democratic opponent, incumbent (and vulnerable) Sen. Claire McCaskill pounced: “I think frankly, like most women, when we heard the statement, it was, Are you kidding? It was a stunner, just jaw dropping and hard to comprehend.” Akin, a House Republican, later released a statement saying he had misspoken. “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.”  

*** Reemphasizing the gender gap: After the GOP presidential primary season and after social issues jumped into the spotlight earlier this year — the trans-vaginal ultrasound legislation in Virginia, the dispute over the health-care laws requirement that religious-affiliated schools and hospitals offer free contraception, Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” — the Republican Party found itself facing a significant gender gap. According to last months NBC/WSJ poll, President Obama was leading Mitt Romney by 15 points among registered female voters, 54%-39%. In addition, the GOPs fav/unfav with women in the poll was 32%/46% (versus 46%/35% for the Democratic Party). So theres a reason why the Romney campaign acted so quickly to distance itself from Akins remarks. “Gov. Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akins statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape,” spokesman Andrea Saul said in a statement last night. (However, Ryan personally opposes all abortions — even in cases of rape — except to save the mothers life.) And all of this comes as the Obama campaign has been targeting female voters in Colorado and Northern Virginia on abortion and womens issues. By the way, Romney and Ryan have a joint interview with WMUR today, so what they say about Akin could drive this story and actions by the GOP in the next 12 hours.

*** Show Me a controversy: Focusing on that Missouri Senate contest, its worth paying attention to see if national Republicans — in the next 24 hours — try to force Akin to bow out from the race. On the one hand, what Akin said is incredibly toxic, especially when facing a female opponent. On the other hand, Missouri is still a conservative state. But a source with ties to Akins political operation tells First Read that the GOP congressman most likely wont quit the contest, saying Akin believes this race is “providential” and even if Akin was ready to get out, his wife would never let him quit. The person with knowledge of Akins political operation adds: “She makes him seem like the reasonable one.” If you take away Missouri from the GOPs potential win column, they have a MUCH MORE difficult path to taking back the Senate. How are Akins remarks playing in the Show Me State? Heres the headline from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Akins rape comment threatens to alter U.S. Senate race.” And here is the Kansas City Star: “Senate candidate Todd Akins remark on rape stirs anger.”

*** Missouri ballot deadlines: There are two chances Republicans would have to replace Akin on the ballot. The cleanest is if Akin decides to withdraw by 5:00 pm tomorrow (which is the 11th Tuesday before Election Day), and thats the final time any candidate can withdraw without reason. But as we noted above, thats not going to happen. But there is a SECOND deadline of Sept. 25 (6th Tuesday before E-Day) if a nominee asks for a court order to get off the ballot AND agrees to pay for any ballot printing costs, then the GOP could find a last minute candidate. Worth noting, Sarah Steelman, who finished THIRD in the GOP primary to Akin, has already tweeted her outrage AT her former primary foe.

*** CODELS Gone Wild: And Akin isnt the only House Republican in the news today. Last night, Politico broke the news that House Republicans last year took a dip in the Sea of Galilee — including one member, Kansas Rep. Kevin Yoder, who was nude — in an evening involving alcohol. “During a fact-finding congressional trip to the Holy Land last summer, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) took off his clothes and jumped into the sea, joining a number of members, their families and GOP staff during a night out in Israel… Other participants, including the daughter of another congressman, swam fully clothed while some lawmakers partially disrobed. More than 20 people took part in the late-night dip in the sea, according to sources who took part in the trip.” Heres why this story has the potential to outrage voters beyond the personal indiscretion. This episode, on Aug. 18, 2011, happened just weeks after the debt-ceiling debacle and after S&P downgraded the U.S. credit rating. So after helping create the showdown with the president, members of the House Republican freshman class are partying it up on a private junket in Israel? And we wonder why Congress job rating is so low… 

*** So much for the tight Obama ship: Four years ago, one secret to the Obama campaigns success — during the primaries and then general election — was that it didnt air out its dirty laundry to reporters or the public. If there were disagreements, they kept it inside the family. But not this time around. In a new e-book, Politico’s Glenn Thrush writes, “Second-guessing about personnel, strategy and tactics has been a dominant theme of the reelection effort, according to numerous current and former Obama advisers who were interviewed for ‘Obamas Last Stand.'” More: The discord, these sources said, has on occasion flowed from Obama himself, who at repeated turns has made vocal his dissatisfaction with decisions made by his campaign team, with its messaging, with Vice President Joe Biden and with what Obama feared was clumsy coordination between his West Wing and reelection headquarters in Chicago.” We know there are PLENTY of Obama aides openly wondering if simply geography has caused most of this discord. The distance between Chicago and the West Wing was supposed to be a good thing; its created more problems than they ever imagined.

*** Micro-targeting the Ryan budget: If you want to see how the Obama campaign is micro-targeting its attacks on the Ryan budget plan, look no further than seven new radio ads its unveiling today in seven different battleground states. In Florida, the radio ads highlight how the Ryan plan — which Romney has said he would sign into law — turns Medicare into a voucher/premium support system; in Iowa, they stress how it would cut clean energy; in Nevada, they emphasize how Ryan voted against legislation protecting active-duty service members from foreclosures; in New Hampshire and Ohio, they argue how the Ryan budget cuts Pell Grants; in North Carolina, they contend that Ryan voted against federal money to help veterans dealing with PSTD; and in Virginia, they point out that the Ryan budget cuts transportation spending.

*** Romney camp again hits Obama on welfare reform: Meanwhile, the Romney campaign is up with its THIRD TV ad hitting Obama on welfare reform. “On July 12th, President Obama quietly ended the work requirement gutting welfare reform,” the ad goes. “One of the most respected newspapers in America called it nuts, saying If you want to get more people to work, you don’t loosen the requirements you tighten them.” But what newspaper was that? It actually was an editorial from the conservative Richmond Times-Dispatch. And heres some irony heres how the Richmond Times-Dispatch news section writes up this latest TV ad: “The 30-second ad doubles down on the Romney campaigns claim that Obama ended welfares work requirement gutting welfare reform, a charge that has been debunked by multiple independent fact-checkers.” Just asking, but who would have guessed a month ago that the Romney campaigns major TV message a week before the GOP convention would be welfare reform…