No Democratic incumbent was likelier to be unseated in 2012 than Claire McCaskill. But thanks to a disciplined campaign, and a truly fatal misstep by her opponent, she’ll retain her Missouri Senate seat for another six years.
“With a stubborn determination, tenacity and a refusal to give up, we showed the country what Missouri is made of,” McCaskill said in a victory speech Tuesday night, after defeating her challenger Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO).
When election season began, nobody imagined she would still be a Senator in 2013. She was a deeply unpopular incumbent in an increasingly Republican state, and polled behind a number of viable challengers backed by a GOP desperate to depose her.
But as Republicans have drifted right over the past several years, Democrats have mastered the tactics of influencing GOP primaries, and none have pulled it off more deftly — or more humorously — than McCaskill did.
McCaskill drove conservative voters into Akin’s camp, and threw the GOP primary his way, despite the well known concerns of the national Republican party.
Their concerns proved well founded. In August, Akin submarined his own campaign, and put the GOP’s entire 2012 effort at risk, by articulating an anti-abortion argument so controversial and factually wrong that scores of Republicans, up to and including, Mitt Romney ultimately urged Akin to step aside.
“From what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin said in a local interview. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
National funders and supporters were quickly forced to abandon him. And by the time his remarks had stopped reverberating nationally, his candidacy was finished. He consistently trailed McCaskill from that point forward.
Until Akin’s “legitimate rape” fiasco, most top Republicans and Democrats put the GOP’s chances of reclaiming the Senate at 50-50. According to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight model, Republican odds of winning a majority were never higher than on the day Akin’s story went national when they stood at 61.5 percent. From that moment forward, their odds plummeted, suggesting Akin, more than any other factor, cost the GOP control over the upper chamber. her challenger,
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.