Evangelical conservatives tout support as Akin public schedule intensifies

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LAKE OZARK, Mo. — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin’s campaign is slowly getting its groove back.

Akin has slowly revamped his campaign against Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill, taking on a more public schedule that places him in front of more voters and more reporters.

After a national firestorm erupted around his incendiary statement last month that pregnancies can somehow be shut down in cases of “legitimate rape,” Akin disappeared from the campaign trail for more than a week, when he hunkered down with strategists to plan how his campaign would move forward, despite calls from much of the Republican establishment to step out of the race.

But in the weeks since, a defiant Akin has received an outpouring of support from the party’s evangelical, conservative base, much of which supported him during the primary, well before his problematic remark.

“As you may have noted, Todd misspoke,” Akin said to mild laughter at a chili supper last week in Camden County. Akin said despite his errors, “our campaign is going great.”

The crowd was friendly. When Akin and his wife, Lulli, entered the room, attendees stood and offered strong applause. Behind the podium, a “Todd Akin for Senate” hung on the wall, with a slight addition. In the upper left corner, someone has pinned a piece of paper that said, “Thank you,” making the sign appear to say, “Thank you, Todd Akin.” Akin was introduced at the event by Dick Bott, a Missouri evangelical leader who praised Akin for standing up on anti-abortion issues.

But while the evangelical base of the party has embraced Akin, the party’s leadership has not. The national and Missouri infrastructure of the party has urged Akin to step aside and threatened to cut vital funding previously slated to support his campaign. A critical deadline is on the horizon for Akin if he does want to step aside, but from his remark to supports, it is clear that he does not have that intention.

“We had an election. You chose who you wanted to replace Claire McCaskill,” Akin said, adding that he does not “have any gripes with the party” that has called on him to step out of the race.

“Sometimes our party leadership misses,” he said.

The Camden County event marked the first campaign event in which Akin was joined by other candidates from the statewide ticket, including attorney general candidate Ed Martin, state treasurer candidate Cole McNary, and gubernatorial candidate Dave Spence.

None of the candidates addressed the Akin controversy from the stage, and none of them dawned stickers promoting their candidate against McCaskill, which, perhaps before his remarks, would have been a natural occurrence to show party unity heading in to November. The candidates, instead, focused their messages specifically on their own rivals and their own races, a strong contrast from the week after the primary in which the entire slate of candidates — including Akin — barnstormed the state in the same RV.

Polling shows mixed messages for Akin’s campaign. Some polls have him up by a few points, others have him down by ten points, but what is clear is there has been a shift since before the primary when every Republican candidate led McCaskill in a general election matchup.

Akin and McCaskill are scheduled to participate in their first debate on Friday, during a forum hosted by the Missouri Press Association.