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.
During a similar meeting in Newton County that same night, where Nick Myers was re-elected chairman, the debate over Akin had both sides charged.
Myers said several in the room described Akin’s comment as “indefensible,” but noted he had asked for forgiveness.
“They see it as his decision to make because he was elected,” Myers said, referring to the primary contest and the question of whether Akin should quit the race.
But others noted that while Akin won, he didn’t have overwhelming support even before his controversial remarks.
“Some also pointed out that more than 60 percent of the vote went to other candidates,” Myers said.
According to Myers, many Newton County Republicans said the race is about more than one person, and the defeat of U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, is the priority for Republicans, both locally and around the country. Victory could give the GOP a Senate majority, making it easier for Romney, should he win, to implement his agenda — or more difficult for incumbent Barack Obama to advance his.
“They’re more interested in having a person in there who can help repeal Obamacare. They want someone who can win the race, and he (Akin) is seriously damaged,” Myers said.
The chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, David Cole, of Cassville, sent a memo to members of the Republican State Committee last week indicating that Akin’s comments are “not just a distraction” but “pose a threat to our party’s chances of retaking control of the U.S. Senate,” and it also could affect other Missouri races.
Although Akin has chosen to stay in, the question remains about whether he can afford the race.
Although it still has TV advertising time reserved in Missouri, the National Republican Senatorial Committee says it will pull $5 million of planned ads if Akin stays in the race. The conservative Crossroads group, associated with Republican strategist Karl Rove, also halted its anti-McCaskill ads and said it will pull out of Missouri if Akin doesn’t go.
FreedomWorks for America, a powerful organizer among tea party activists, had been likely to support Akin in the general election with door-to-door canvassers, phone calls, mailed fliers, yard signs and online advertising. Now the group has joined the chorus calling for Akin to give up.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has aired TV ads against McCaskill, also has no plans for further involvement in Missouri’s Senate race, a spokeswoman said.
On the other hand, the Republican National Coalition for Life still supports Akin and could direct money his way before the general election, said coalition Director Dianne Edmondson. Missouri Right to Life remains staunchly behind Akin. But it has not typically waged big-dollar TV blitzes, either.
Abandoned by deep-pocketed national groups, Akin is passing a collection plate among his remaining supporters, asking for a few dollars at a time. He claimed Thursday to have taken in more than $100,000 during a two-day online fundraising drive that he portrayed as a grass-roots effort to circumvent “party bosses” who demanded that he drop out. He then sent out a new fundraising email asking supporters to chip in $5 toward a goal of raising an additional $25,000. Earlier in the week, he pleaded for $3 donations.
“It’s very difficult, when you have the limited base we have in Missouri, to send emails out asking for $3 at a time,” said Pat Thomas, secretary of the Missouri Republican State Committee who has worked as a coordinator for numerous candidates. “I don’t know how to build a war chest to do that.”
“Unless (political action committees) change their minds, that’s going to be one of the major impacts of the campaign,” said Doug Brooks, of Joplin, who is a member of the Democratic National Committee.
“Claire (McCaskill) had been targeted heavily by nationwide PACS that were prepared to spend millions in this race,” he said. “It will make a big difference in Claire’s campaign, but it also could do that for the president since a lot of the money was trying to tie Claire to the president and health care.”
Brooks said he also believed perceptions on health care reforms will change as the campaign moves forward.
The furor actually could have some positive effects, Putnam said, because much of Akin’s core support “is from grass-roots people who aren’t going to be pushed around by party bosses.
“He (Akin) voted against No Child Left Behind after President Bush called him and asked him to vote for it,” Putnam noted.
He said the controversy has also made Akin, who was not well-known outside of his suburban St. Louis district before the race, a household name nationwide.
“If there was any lack of name recognition, good or bad — it’s gone now,” he added.
Backer: GOP needs ‘spine’
While Republicans from Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan on down to Missouri’s current and former Republican senators, including Roy Blunt, John Ashcroft, Kit Bond, Jim Talent and John Danforth, asked Akin to step down, others are pushing him forward.
Chris Brown, president of a group known as the Missouri Republican Assembly, sent out a statement supporting Akin, indicating that the candidate misspoke, apologized and clarified his comments, and deserves state and national support.
“The Republican leadership needs to grow a spine,” the statement read. “Todd can win despite this misstep.”
Brown did not return calls for comment.
Brooks said Akin’s comments and his decision to remain on the ticket “bring the effect of Republican policies on women to the front and center.”
From Colorado to New Hampshire to Illinois, Democrats already are using the incendiary comments about rape made by the Missouri congressman and Republican Senate candidate as a political bludgeon.
“People are disgusted and appalled,” said Joe Miklosi, a Democratic congressional candidate in suburban Denver, who began tying his opponent, GOP Rep. Mike Coffman, to Akin within hours of learning about his comments this past Sunday.
Miklosi sent a tweet that read, “Mike Coffman and Todd Akin have been fighting side by side against women in Congress,” and posted a video online of footage of Akin praising Coffman on the House floor.
Coffman responded by calling for Akin to leave the race and decrying his rape comments as “wrong, inappropriate and hurtful to women across the country.”
It’s a scene repeated in House races nationwide, as Akin’s comments on rape are playing a role in more than a dozen House races in battleground states.
Even Romney and Ryan found themselves dragged into a debate last week over hot-button social issues, rather than talking about the economy, just days before a national convention aimed at showing a unified Republican party.
‘Bust my butt’
State Rep. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City, is one of three state representatives from the area — along with Republicans Bill White of Joplin and Mike Kelley of Lamar — who are listed as endorsing Akin on the candidate’s website. Davis and White also have given Akin money, according to the FEC.
Davis called Akin “a strong, principled man who apologized for what he said.
“If someone apologizes sincerely, I accept it and go on,” Davis said. “I’ll bust my butt for the campaign if he stays in, but if he decides to bow out, I’ll do it for his replacement.”
Correspondent Eli Yokley and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Not since 1884 has a campaign spun so quickly because of a single phrase.
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