WASHINGTON -- In Washington, the Republican establishment is sending Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) a unmistakable message: He needs to exit the Senate race against Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill. Now.
But in Missouri, a non-scientific Patch poll of influential local Republicans shows suburban activists and officeholders in or near Akin's district are divided about whether he should stay in the race, at least for the moment.
Monday was brutal for Akin and his campaign. Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney called Akin's assertion that "legitimate rape" victims rarely get pregnant, "insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong." A series of prominent Republicans called on Akin to exit the race, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged Akin to "consider whether this statement will prevent him from effectively representing our party in this critical election."
Conservative group Crossroads GPS also announced it had pulled its latest round of ads set to air in Missouri on Akin's behalf and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) reportedly informed Akin that it would not spend money to help his campaign.
Nevertheless, as of Monday afternoon, Akin was insisting he would stay in the race, both in a radio interview with conservative commentator Sean Hannity and via Twitter, where he asked followers for campaign donations. Akin appeared to be testing whether grassroots conservatives might provide via small donations what he stood to lose from the national Republican Party and the American Crossroads super PAC.
So the informal survey conducted by Patch to obtain the opinions of local Republican activists in Missouri provides an important gauge of how the national effort to get Akin out of the race is playing among his strongest supporters. Local editors for 23 local Patch sites, which cover much of suburban St. Louis, had previously recruited 70 Republican activists, party leaders and elected officials to participate in regular surveys.
On Sunday, they sent out questions about Akin's controversial statements, and 32 of their Republican insiders responded. The only bit of good news for Akin is that these insiders were still roughly divided on whether he should exit the race: 13 said he should drop out, 15 said he should stay in, and 4 were uncertain.
The bad news is that most of those interviewed either live in Akin's congressional district or near it -- so they should include some of his strongest allies. Potentially worse news for the candidate is that many may have responded before they heard the calls for Akin to leave the race from the prominent national Republicans who spoke out on Monday.
Jonathan Bernstein, a political scientist who blogs for the Washington Post, believes that the Akin case will provide "a terrific example of how contemporary politics work." If the various formal party organizations, donors, operatives and Republican interests groups act together, Bernstein argues, "those in the party network can just about shut down any Republican campaign -- and deny any politician a future in the party if he or she does not comply."
Bernstein also explains that this process occurs through a series of "cues" passed from national party leaders and groups to local activists, like those Patch interviewed in Missouri, as well as those that Akin is appealing to for online donations.
"If the Republican Party network is united against Akin," he writes, "then there are not going to be any positive cues," and thus, Akin will be unable to raise significant sums of money.
The Patch survey is, like all such efforts, just a snapshot in time. If Bernstein is right and prominent Republicans remain united in urging Akin to exit the race, then Akin's support is likely to crumble even among his closest local supporters.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that 15 of those polled said Akin should drop out and 13 said he should stay in. In fact, 13 said he should drop out and 15 said he should not.