Rape Comments Cost Republicans Two Senate Seats

Akin loses in Missouri, and Mourdock loses in Indiana. Women reject two tone-deaf conservatives.

Michael Conroy / AP

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two Republicans who won infamy nationally for insensitive comments about rapes lost their races for Senate in what should have been safe Republican states Tuesday, deepening the sense that women had driven a backlash over conservative Republican politics on abortion and reproductive rights.

In Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskill trounced Rep. Todd Akin by more than 15 points and will serve a second term; and Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly defeated Richard Mourdock in Indiana by more than 100,000 votes.

Both Mourdock and Akin had won their competitive Republican primary races by establishing their positions as the most conservative candidates in their fields. And both, running as they were in Republican states, were favored early on to win their respective general election contests.

But Akin’s candidacy derailed just a week after he won the Republican primary, when he said during an interview in August that women’s bodies could naturally prevent pregnancies in the case of “legitimate rape.”

And during a debate last month, Mourdock said he would not allow abortions for women who were raped because pregnancies from rape are “something that God intended to happen.”

Mourdock’s comment was all the more talked about and criticized for its similarity to Akin’s remark. But Mourdock did not apologize; instead, he merely clarified: “God creates life, and that was my point. God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that He does.”

With just weeks to go before Election Day, the majority of Republicans stood by Mourdock and rejected the public outcry about his statement.

Akin had not been so fortunate.

Immediately following Akin’s comment, he was publicly and swiftly abandoned by the vast majority of the Republican Party — verbally disowned, financially cut off, and privately pressured to drop out of the race. After apologizing for his remark, Akin resisted widespread criticism and vowed to continue his bid for Senate, as he attempted to turn his rejection of the “party bosses” into a rallying cry.

As it became clear that Missouri would be a key state in the GOP battle to retake the Senate, those party bosses returned to support Akin in the final weeks of the campaign, and his campaign welcomed them back. Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee campaigned with Akin in Missouri; Sen. Rand Paul’s PAC spent roughly $100,000 on anti-McCaskill television advertisements; and the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee renewed its financial support for Akin’s campaign, if only through back channels.

But it appeared, in light of Akin’s loss Tuesday night, that that effort came too late.

In his concession speech, Akin looked, as he has throughout his campaign, to God: “I think that in the circumstances that we’ve all been through, it’s particularly appropriate to thank God, who makes no mistakes, and who is much wiser than we are. And so I say, to God alone be the honor and the glory, regardless of how he decides to organize history.”

As McCaskill’s campaign celebrated its victory, spokesperson Caitlin Legacki described the mood as “explosive” — but said Democrats would have found a way to win even if Akin had not mentioned “legitimate rape.”

“There was always a path to victory,” Legacki wrote via text message.

In Indiana, Democrats similarly maintained that Donnelly had been pulling ahead even before Mourdock’s remark.

“I think we had a clear path to win,” said Ben Ray, a spokesperson for the Indiana Democratic Party. “But Mourdock winning the primary made it a lot easier on us.”

“Being Democrats in Indiana, we have to run a perfect campaign and get a couple of breaks,” Ray added. “Joe Donnelly got us a perfect campaign, and we got a couple of breaks.”

But even to the end, as he delivered his concession speech Tuesday night, Mourdock defended his rigid anti-abortion stance, though it cost him a seat in the Senate.

“I try not to use the personal pronoun ‘I’ standing here, but forgive me, I will for a moment,” said Mourdock, choking up, “because, as I will look back on this night — over the weeks, the months, the years ahead — I will look back knowing I was attacked for standing for my principles.”

Mourdock added, concluding his speech, “Although I was attacked for it as well, make no mistake: I stand that all life is precious in the eyes of God.”

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