WASHINGTON — Democratic-led efforts to link Rep. Todd Akin’s incendiary remarks about “legitimate rape” to Rep. Mike Coffman’s position on abortion may not be enough to derail his re-election bid, political analysts said.
Akin, a Missouri Republican, on Aug. 19 was asked on a St. Louis television station if he opposes abortion when a woman becomes pregnant as a result of rape. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” he said, implying that rape results in a pregnancy on rare occasions.
Akin also reiterated his opposition to “attacking a child” via abortion who has been conceived as a result of sexual assault. Democrats have seized on Akin’s remarks and staunch pro-life position to accuse 20 Republican lawmakers, including Coffman of Aurora, of being extremists on the issue.
Seth Masket, an associate professor of political science at the University of Denver, said in an interview that Democratic attacks alone are unlikely to deny the lawmaker a third term in office. “I don’t think necessarily it’s a game-changing event,” he said. “The chances that this will have a big impact on the average voter in November are pretty low.”
Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report, a non-partisan newsletter, reached a conclusion similar to Masket’s. “Am I saying that people are going to the voting booth in November and saying, ‘Remember Todd Akin’? No,” Rothenberg said.
Both political analysts did not deny that Akin’s comments could hurt Coffman, who faces State Rep. Joseph Miklosi (D-Denver) in what is expected to be a close contest this fall.
“It could have a modest impact possibly across the board,” Masket said. “At the margins, anything could happen,” Rothenberg said.
Rape is not a common reason cited by American women who have had an abortion. Of the 1.2 million abortions performed annually in the United States, one percent of the women who had abortions in 2004 said they had the procedure because they were a rape victim, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Yet Akin’s unsupported theory about the incidence of rape and pregnancy and his controversial statements have made him a political pariah.
Soon after Akin’s comments went viral, Republicans urged Akin to end his bid as the Missouri GOP’s nominee for the Senate. He rejected their calls and vowed to stay in the race.
Miklosi, a state lawmaker who supports abortion rights, last week released a web video that links Akin and his remarks to Coffman. The 30-second video shows Akin making his “legitimate rape” comments on the TV show and then referring to Coffman as a “great congressman” on the House floor. Although Akin’s comments referred to Coffman’s position not on abortion but reducing the federal debt, the ad accuses Coffman of being “too Extreme for Colorado.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also has launched telephone calls to residents of Coffman’s district that tie the incumbent to Akin, according to Politico.
The automatic calls criticize the GOP for supporting a Human Life Amendment in its party platform, which does not specify the party’s position on unborn children conceived as a result of rape and incest.
“(The) plank … says no to a woman’s right to choose without any exceptions even in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is at risk,” a female announcer says. “If you’re tired of this right-wing social agenda from Congressman Todd Akin and Congressman Coffman then call him now.”
Although Miklosi and the DCCC are attacking Coffman, one abortion-rights organization is not planning to do so.
NARAL Pro-Choice America has “no plans” to run a commercial critical of the two-term incumbent, spokeswoman Samantha Gordon said in an interview. The Washington Post reported last week that the organization’s political director “would call attention” to several vulnerable House Republicans, including Coffman.
Despite Coffman’s stance, political analysts said his position is not salient to most voters in this election. “There’s a difference between having an unpopular position and an unpopular position that’s relevant to voters, such as jobs and the economy,” Rothenberg said. “Democrats are going to have to paint long and hard, because to get people to vote on (the rape and abortion) issue is difficult,” Rothenberg said. “Todd Akin may not even be a candidate in November.”
Masket said Akin’s remarks and Democrats’ attacks “raise the saliency of the issue” against Coffman, but said most voters are not talking about rape and abortion.
Both analysts said Coffman is likely to worry more about the political makeup of the 6th congressional district he represents, which was redrawn from solidly Republican to an equal mix of Republicans, Democrats, and independents. The Rothenberg Political Report lists the Coffman-Miklosi race as one of 14 “pure tossups” in the country.