If Rep. Todd Akin somehow overcomes an apparent propensity to make impolitic statements and wins in November, his policy positions and freedom from leadership could make him a rogue actor in a Senate already mired in gridlock.
Akin, the GOP Senate candidate in Missouri, has faced an uphill battle to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill since winning the nomination and making widely criticized comments in defense of his position against abortion in cases of rape and incest. But his continued presence in the race as a favorite of conservatives is forcing establishment Republicans to thread a needle between hoping he can help them win back the Senate and distancing themselves from his erroneous contention that women’s bodies can prevent pregnancy from a “legitimate rape.”
Akin has consistently had a 100 percent rating from National Right to Life in the House, and anti-abortion groups expect he would be a champion for their issues in the Senate.
If elected to the Senate, Akin would have a much wider array of procedural options to push his causes than as a rank-and-file Member of the House because the Senate’s rules afford much more power to each lawmaker.
Other recent cases of Senators being elected without serious leadership support are not perfect comparisons because those people were temporarily ostracized for being closer to the center of the spectrum, rather than on the conservative side of the GOP.
Earlier this year, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) – who lost her 2010 primary to a tea party upstart but won re-election as a write-in candidate – said she regretted voting with Republicans to support a controversial religious conscience clause amendment offered by Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt that would have eliminated an Obama administration requirement that religious-affiliated organizations provide health care benefits for birth control and other family-planning services.
Murkowski also co-signed a June letter to Speaker John Boehner calling for the House to take up a Senate version of a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
Nonetheless, Murkowski’s voting record of may give some clues as to what leaders can expect from a possible Sen. Akin. When Murkowski overcame the historic and technical challenges of a write-in candidacy, cooler heads prevailed. She held on to her post as the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Despite the comity, Murkowski has not toed the party line nearly as much since the 2010 elections.
In 2010, she voted with the Republicans 83 percent of the time on party unity votes, compared with 71 percent in 2011, according to Congressional Quarterly’s annual vote studies.
By contrast, Akin has been a reliable Republican vote in the House, voting with the party 99 percent of the time in 2010 and 97 percent in 2011.
When Murkowski launched her write-in bid after falling to conservative Joe Miller in the GOP primary, she lost her spot at the leadership table in the Senate.
Murkowski resigned her role as vice chairwoman of the Republican Conference before announcing the write-in candidacy. The GOP leadership in Washington, D.C., led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), backed Miller.
Murkowski has shown no inclination of interfering with McConnell in the way that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has sometimes confounded Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Lieberman won re-election as an “Independent Democrat” after losing the 2006 Democratic Senate primary to Ned Lamont. Lieberman became a difficult vote for Reid to corral during the health care debate, when Reid need every one of the 60 votes in his caucus to overcome GOP opposition.
Akin could be different than either Lieberman or Murkowski, however. Those two were already in the Senate and familiar with the nature of the chamber. Akin has served only in the House, where the partisan divide has long been more pronounced.
Sean Theriault of the University of Texas at Austin and David Rohde of Duke University have studied the voting patterns of Senators and found that Representatives since 1978 who have later become Senators have been among the most predictably conservative during the past few decades.
“Almost the entire growth in Senate party polarization since the early 1970s can be accounted for by Republican senators who previously served in the House after 1978,” the pair wrote in a paper. “In turn, our analysis indicates that the impact of these Republican former representatives can partially be accounted for by a set of constituency factors that are related to their increased conservative voting.”
A group of Republicans, led by Blunt and former Missouri Sen. Kit Bond, has sounded conciliatory toward Akin without pledging financial support. On Sunday, Blunt indicated on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the race was less about Akin and more about retaking control of the Senate.
Tea party favorite Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) is among those backing Akin, and the Senate Conservatives Fund run by DeMint supporters is committed to raising funds for his campaign.
Republicans would prefer to Akin prevail because it helps the path to a majority in the Senate, but they are not getting their hopes up.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) told the Louisville Courier-Journal, the hometown Kentucky paper of McConnell, last week that the NRSC was making “pretty much a business decision” to not put money into the Missouri race.
Roll Call shifted the race from Tossup to Leans Democratic when Akin stayed on the ballot past the final deadline to drop out.
McCaskill contends Akin’s views are more out of step than just a set of unwise statements. That was her message in national cable interviews Friday.
“It’s not what he has said that is the problem. It’s what he believes that is the problem,” McCaskill told MSNBC.
Reporters asked Akin on Friday in Kansas City about an arrest record from an anti-abortion protest decades ago.
“As I’ve made very clear, I don’t apologize for being pro-life. I stand up for the things I believe in.” Akin said, according to the Associated Press.