The campaign of Rep. Todd Akin, Missouri Republicans' one-time hope to win a seat in the U.S. Senate, came to a disappointing end when Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill claimed victory Tuesday night. Republicans now have to evaluate if their decision to abandon Akin after his comments about "legitimate rape" was the right path to take.
With 100 percent of the precincts reporting, McCaskill received 54.7 percent of the vote to Akin's 39.2 percent. Libertarian candidate Jonathan Dine came in third with 6.1 percent of the vote.
As a comparison, Mitt Romney defeated President Barack Obama 53.9 to 44.3 percent in Missouri, showing a drop-off of a staggering 14 percent, or 400,000 votes, between Romney and Akin.
In early summer, Republicans were salivating over the prospect of gaining control of the Senate and the Missouri seat was a major component of that plan. The establishment set within the party was counting on businessman John Brunner to win the primary. But Akin, who received the support of a combination of tea party and evangelicals, pulled off a surprising six-point victory over Brunner and state treasurer Sarah Steelman, who was also supported by tea party activists.
A Mason-Dixon poll taken around the time of the race showed a generic GOP candidate with a five to 11 point advantage over McCaskill.
Then came the rape comment.
In a television interview, Akin was asked about the touchy issue of abortion. It was his comment about how a woman's body could dismiss a pregnancy after a "legitimate rape" that proved politically disastrous.
Within hours of Aiken's remark going viral, GOP heavyweights such as Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who chairs the committee tasked with increasing seats in the Senate, called on Akin to withdraw so another candidate could challenge McCaskill.
"We're done," said Cornyn, referencing the fact that both hard and soft money was going anywhere but to Akin.
Immediately before the Republican National Convention convened in Tampa, Fla., in late August, Akin was summoned to meet with leading conservatives in a Florida hotel who hoped to either broker a deal with the Republican establishment to reaffirm their support for Akin or possibly talking him into gracefully stepping aside.
Akin refused to back down and in the process conservatives stalwarts, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, assumed a visible role in the hopes of keeping conservatives focused on the ultimate goal, which was defeating McCaskill.
To make matters worse, Akin most likely alienated even more women after saying McCaskill was not "ladylike" after she was aggressive toward him in a televised debate.
With such a large distance between Romney's and Akin's final vote totals, the question pundits will be asking is: Was it a stupid comment on a controversial subject or the shock of an immediate – and some would say, premature – withdrawal of GOP support that doomed Akin's chances?
A leading GOP figure who asked not be identified for this article felt Akin should have stepped aside in favor of Brunner or another candidate that could have ridden the coattails of the establishment (aka Romney) vote.
"Akin messed up; heck, we all messed up," said the Republican. "Some in our party – including me – don't like to talk about the social issues in the first place. I still say this election was about the economy and it's a shame we've lost a chance at the McCaskill seat for another six years. It's just a shame."
Others, such as Penny Nance who leads Concerned Women for America, felt Akin's comments were ill-conceived and misunderstood but did not rise to the level of a complete withdrawal of support by the Republican Party.
"Yes, they pulled out of the race too quickly," Nance told The Christian Post on Wednesday. "It was a seat we needed to win and they should have stayed the course. I think that would have made all the difference in the world.
Nance also said candidates need to be better prepared to talk about pro-life issues, especially abortion. "All candidates, but especially men, need to understand the issue backwards and forward and learn to speak concisely and with little to no danger they will say something that will haunt them later. Being knowledgeable is the first step in being prepared to defend pro-life values."
Akin's campaign did receive some support from the Missouri Republican Party in the form of television and radio ads, but it was most likely too late to salvage Akin's falling poll numbers.
Once the dust settles late Wednesday, Democrats are expected to pick up as many as two seats in the Senate, bringing their total to 55, compared to the GOP's 44 seats. There will be one independent in the Senate who usually votes in lockstep with the Democrats.