Washington, D.C. — Republicans close to Rep. Todd Akin dismissed his apparent weakness among female voters as a matter of "optics" and see their path to victory — among women and men alike — as a focused campaign against Senator Claire McCaskill.
Akin's campaign continues to reel from his suggestion that "legitimate rape" can't cause pregnancy, and from a more recent change that McCaskill has engaged in un-"ladylike" behavior. But Akin has remained relatively competitive — trailing by five points in the most recent RealClearPolitics average.
In a Mason-Dixon poll published in July, before Akin won the Republican primary, Akin and McCaskill polled about even among women; in August, after Akin's "legitimate rape" remark, McCaskill led among women by 18 points.
But, one Republican strategist with ties to the campaign told BuzzFeed, the campaign isn't worried and thinks the current gender gap in the polls is about what it would have been anyway.
"It's not as overwhelming as you would think," the strategist said, citing internal polling. "It looks like a bigger optics problem."
The strategist added, "It's not a difference-making thing right now."
The campaign's strategy moving forward, then, will focus squarely on McCaskill.
"We're going to keep litigating her record," the strategist said. "It's enough to move the dial. ...The only way we can screw up is not staying focused on that."
Rick Tyler, a spokesperson for Akin's campaign, said female voters in Missouri "understand that Todd misspeaking and apologizing for it does not trump" McCaskill's voting record on issues including the Affordable Care Act and the stimulus, both of which she supported.
"I think all of these things strike a chord with women," Tyler told BuzzFeed. "That's not the direction they want for this country."
Asked if women might be bothered by Akin's comment last week that McCaskill had acted more "ladylike" when she ran against former Sen. Jim Talent in 2006, Tyler said he thinks Akin's remark has been misrepresented and won't turn off voters.
"If 'ladylike' is impolitic, then we can't use 'ladies and gentlemen'?" Tyler said. "We haven't dropped 'gentlemanly' from the guide to political correctness, I don't think."
"It was obvious that when she beat Jim Talent she was much less aggressive—not to say that women shouldn't be aggressive, a woman can be aggressive as any man—but in this debate she was aggressive, she was on the attack," Tyler added. "From the opening bell she came right out and attacked Todd."
Indeed, Akin's campaign has recently regained support from Republicans including Sen. Roy Blunt, of Missouri, and Rick Santorum — and, critically, from Sen. Jim DeMint's PAC, which will lend some financial heft to Akin's bid.