Desperately looking to fire up their base, Democrats are on the hunt for the next Todd Akin — a loose-talking Republican candidate who can be cast as being so far outside of the mainstream that they tarnish the GOP's image and dampen its chances of taking over the Senate.
"We know this is the Democrats' playbook and we know that the media will play along with it," said Kevin Madden, a GOP strategist who worked on Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign. "It's important that Republican candidates don't allow their races to become some proxy fight over something another candidate said in some other state or district. Draw the distinction between their views and your own."
The strategy worked wonders two years ago when the remarks of Mr. Akin and Indiana U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock not only squashed their dreams of being elected to the Senate, but also cast a pall over the party and made it harder for the Romney camp to stay on message.
"Akin was a distraction in the sense that the national press was focused on that controversy while we were looking to methodically drive an economic message in the closing days," Mr. Madden said.
The outlook, though, for Democrats heading into the November election is grimmer than it was in 2012.
For starters, midterm elections are different animals than presidential elections — they generally have lower turnout and the electorate tends to be older, whiter and more conservative.
The blog FiveThirtyEight has said the GOP is a slight favorite to obtain the net six-seat gain they need to win the Senate. With many of the key races in traditionally red states. The University of Virginia's Center for Politics predicts Republicans will pick up somewhere between four and eight seats in the upper chamber.
History also is on the GOP's side: Since 1950, the opposition party in a president's second term has picked up an average of six seats in a midterm election, according to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
In other words, Democrats could use another Akin, political observers say.
"They are looking for something to really try to jolt their base — to try to get female voters, young voters, minority voters energized and so far nothing is working," said David Johnson, a GOP strategist.
Democrats basically agree.
"There is no denying that I would feel a bit more confident of our chances of keeping the Senate if we had more candidates running on the fringe of the party like we saw in years past with Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock," said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist. "I can only assume that Republicans feel pretty good about their chances in November right now, so the last thing they want to see are candidates spouting right-wing rhetoric that turns off women and independents."
Shortly after winning his party's nomination for the Senate in August 2012, Mr. Akin said in a radio interview that women's bodies could somehow block an unwanted pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape."
A a couple months later a similar story played out in Indiana when GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who had knocked off Sen. Dick Lugar in the primary, said that he was against abortions in the case of rape because "it is something that God intended to happen."
Democrats pounced on the remarks, touting them as proof that the Republican party was out of step with voters, and went on to win the races in Missouri and Indiana — thanks to strong support from unmarried women, young voters and minorities.
Sigh of relief
Some Republicans breathed a sigh of relief this primary season after Georgia Rep. Paul C. Broun, who said evolution and the Big Bang theory are "lies straight from the pit of Hell," and Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel, a tea party-backed Republican, lost their bids for the U.S. Senate.
"Much to the glee of the GOP, that quest took an initial hit when the science-deficient Rep. Paul Broun failed to advance to the Georgia Senate primary runoff," said Ford O'Connell, a GOP strategist. "Democrats were also banking heavily on [Mr. McDaniel], because in their view he was the perfect candidate for their propaganda play. He had more backlogged baggage than a Louis Vuitton factory."
With Sen. Thad Cochran's win over Mr. McDaniel, Mr. O'Connell added, "Democrats are running out of options."
Mr. Akin, meanwhile, to the delight of Democrats, returned to the national stage this month when he released a new book, called "Firing Back," in which he said he tried to rewrite the narrative on his now-famous comments.
Mr. Akin argues he was the victim of a "political assassination" by the mainstream media and Republican leaders, and says he stands by point that the probability of pregnancy in the cases of rape are less than it would be otherwise.
"My comment about a woman's body shutting the pregnancy down," Mr. Akin writes in the book, "was directed to the impact of stress on fertilization. This is something fertility doctors debate and discuss. Doubt me? Google 'stress and fertilization,' and you will find a library of research on the subject."
Christy Setzer, a Democratic strategist, said her party still has reason to hope that someone within the GOP will say or do something that will fire up the progressive base nationally.
She said there is "no difference" between Mr. Akin and 2014 GOP Senate hopefuls Rep. Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Rep. Cory Gardner in Colorado and state Rep. Thom Tillis in North Carolina "when it comes to women and wanting to ban common forms of contraception."
"The challenge will be in getting them to spout their views in as pretty and gift-wrapped a package as Todd Akin did," she said.
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