Not since 1884 has a campaign spun so quickly because of a single phrase.
Back then, U.S. Sen. James Blaine, a Republican from Maine and a former secretary of state, thought he could maintain the hold Republicans had on the White House since 1860 if he picked up support from Irish Catholics in New York.
He might have won the presidency, too, but one of his leading supporters, a minister named Samuel Burchard, insulted a large portion of the electorate by referring to Democrats as the party of “rum, Romanism and rebellion.”
Like Todd Akin’s opponents today, Democrats at the time made sure every voter knew what had been said. Blaine lost the support of Irish Catholics in New York and with it, the White House.
People at the time said the Republicans, like the Philistines of old, had been slain with the jawbone of an ass.
How much Akin has undone the ambitions of Republicans in 2012 may not be known until November, but across the country Democrats today are hoping to get the same kind of mileage out of Akin’s comments on rape and abortion that their party got 128 years ago.
After passing a quasi-deadline on Tuesday to exit the race, Akin’s next deadline to leave is Sept. 27, the final date he could receive a court order demanding his name be removed from the ballot.
If Akin continues to stay in, he will have to focus on getting out the vote in those parts of the state where he is popular, which includes his home turf near St. Louis and the Republican Masada that is Southwest Missouri.
Carthage resident John Putnam was an early Akin stalwart. Both men, in fact, have been known to dress in period costume from the American Revolution.
Putnam and his wife, Merre, have donated nearly $10,000 to Akin since last year, according to the Federal Election Commission.
On Tuesday night, during a reorganization meeting of Jasper County Republicans, Putnam was re-elected chairman of the Jasper County Republican Central Committee.
During that meeting he put the question to party faithful: Do they tell the Akin campaign that the St. Louis congressman should drop his Senate bid, or do they tell him to push on?
“I put it on the table,” Putnam said of the question.
The consensus was that Akin should stay in the race.
Holly Snow was at the meeting, and in fact was elected vice chairman.
While still “very much a staunch Akin supporter,” Snow, of Carthage, said the lesson of Akin’s remarks is that “any male politician should never, ever, ever talk about how a woman’s body works.”
Akin “made a terrible choice in the words he chose, and he admitted it. But I know him and he has real integrity, and I will continue to support him and fight against Claire McCaskill.”
But Snow also acknowledged the flap took the steam out of party conservatives who had grown increasingly excited with the selection of Paul Ryan as presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s running mate.
Snow said she believes Akin still can win “because people know how important it is.”
But Jenny Mansfield, of Carthage, a longtime activist with the Republican Party and another member of the central committee, said she did not vote for Akin in the primary and definitely will not vote for him in November. She was not at Tuesday’s meeting, but she was unsparing in her criticism of Akin afterward.
“I am a Republican and a conservative, but I’m also a woman and I understand that rape is rape,” she said. “I think there are too many extremists on the left and the right, and the government has gotten involved in issues that are none of the government’s business — period.”
Mansfield said she believed Akin’s decision to remain on the ticket “absolutely will cost the party and he showed his true colors when he wouldn’t get out.”
On Wednesday, after the informal vote, Putnam strung back up Akin banners at the local Republican headquarters at Seventh Street and Duquesne Avenue, after they had been pulled down.