Even by Washington's political-spin standards, the reaction to two new polls has been a little strange.
On Tuesday, conservatives expressed outrage about a poll showing their candidate tied with, rather than lagging behind, a Democrat in the Senate race in Missouri. On Thursday, Democrats sought to minimize the impact of a poll that showed their candidate leading in the same race by 10 points.
Both polls tested voter preferences in the race between Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Republican Todd Akin. The race has featured some odd political maneuvering after Akin said over the weekend that women were unlikely to become pregnant from "legitimate rape." Republicans hoping to drum Akin out of the race and install a less gaffe-prone candidate point to polls showing him crushed; Democrats, trying to retain a vulnerable seat want to show that the race is still close.
Political spinmeisters are often quick to promote favorable polls and embark on search-and-destroy missions to discredit results they don't like. But the ongoing pressure on Akin from prominent Republican insiders to withdraw from the race has turned the usual rules upside down.
The latest poll is from Rasmussen Reports, a firm that conducts automated, recorded-voice polls that Democrats are quick to note have a Republican slant, as demonstrated by the polls prior to the 2010 election when compared with the actual results. The poll, conducted Wednesday, showed Akin favored by 38 percent of likely voters, while McCaskill had 48 percent support -- the first time any poll has shown McCaskill ahead since May. A vast majority of the state's voters -- 93 percent -- said they followed news about Akin's comments on rape very or somewhat closely. Nearly half viewed him very unfavorably, up from 22 percent before the GOP primary.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) spokesman Shripal Shah wrote the Huffington Post via email, urging that the poll be disregarded. “Everyone knows that Rasmussen is a tool of the GOP establishment in Washington."
And just two weeks ago, DSCC spokesman Matt Canter sent reporters an email plugging, without qualification, another Rasmussen poll that showed a better-than-expected result for the Democratic Senate candidate. Canter has sent reporters at least eight emails touting Rasmussen results during 2012 alone, albeit usually with the qualification, “even slanted Republican pollster Scott Rasmussen.”
The numbers from Rasmussen are in sharp contrast with a poll taken Monday by the Democratic firm PPP, which showed Akin still ahead by a point a day after he said women were unlikely to become pregnant from "legitimate rape."
Conservatives criticized the poll as being heavily weighted toward Republicans, in an effort to pump up Akin's numbers to keep him in the race. "Anyone suspect that the Democrat polling firm might be trying to get the result they want, to ensure Akin stays in, so that he can get pummeled in November?" asked the National Review's Jim Geraghty. (PPP's director, Tom Jensen, denied the accusation.)
Missouri's Senate candidates jumped into the spin wars as well.
Akin, who has since apologized, reportedly was convinced by the PPP poll and a separate internal poll not to withdraw. His camp argued that McCaskill's 10-point lead in the Rasmussen survey made her not viable as a candidate.
"The fact that Claire McCaskill is only polling at 48% after 72 hours of constant negative attacks on Todd Akin shows just how weak she is," campaign manager Perry Akin wrote in a release. "If she can't break fifty percent after a week like this, Democrats should ask Claire to step down. Todd is in this race to win; we will close this gap and win in November with the support of the grassroots in Missouri and across America."
McCaskill, meanwhile, blew off the results, tweeting, "Rasmussen poll made me laugh out loud. If anyone believes that, I just turned 29. Sneaky stuff." She also linked to a 2010 story about a cruise Scott Rasmussen once took with Karl Rove.
Both the PPP and Rasmussen polls were conducted by automated phone interviews of 500 likely voters over the course of a day. The heavy news coverage of the unusual fallout from Akin's comments makes it difficult for any pollster to get a truly complete read on voter preferences in this race, and the fact that both surveys were done in one night suggests the need for special caution about the results of both polls.
It's still early. The real impact of the comment won't be clear until more time passes, as the media frenzy wears off and voters consider the comment in totality -- and against the reality that Akin is staying in the race. Voters who are opposed to McCaskill will have to weigh that against Akin's comments on rape and abortion and consider their vote in the fall election.
Also on HuffPost:
Gov. Jan Brewer (R-Ariz.)
"Well, I thought his comments were a little bit outrageous," she <a href="http://www.kjzz.org/content/1208/gov-brewer-akin-comments-little-bit-outrageous-doesnt-call-candidate-drop-out-race" target="_hplink">told KJZZ's Mark Brodie</a>. "I'm not in a position to [decide] whether it's right for the party to pull funding, I mean, those people there raise the money, they get to spend it however they wish."
"As I said yesterday, Todd Akin's comments were offensive and wrong and he should very seriously consider what course would be in the best interest of our country," said Romney in a statement. "Today, his fellow Missourians urged him to step aside, and I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race." Earlier, from an <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/314452/romney-akins-inexcusable-comment-robert-costa" target="_hplink">interview with the National Review</a>: <blockquote>"Congressman's Akin comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong," Romney said. "Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive."</blockquote>
Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.)
"He should be ashamed of himself to be talking about it in that way," Christie said. "It's stunning to me that somebody who's offering themselves for high office like that would have those kind of thoughts and use that kind of language."
Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.)
From <a href="http://mountpleasant.patch.com/articles/gov-scott-walker-says-missouri-senate-candidate-todd-akin-should-get-out" target="_hplink">Patch</a>: <blockquote>Gov. Scott Walker said Tuesday that Republican Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin should drop out of the race after Akin made controversial comments about rape and pregnancy. "Yes, he should step down. Those comments were ignorant at best and outrageous," Walker said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Sturtevant.</blockquote>
Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-Va.)
"He's got to seriously decide what's in the best interest of the party, what's in the best interest of the state of Missouri, and frankly, at this point, given that flat wrong statement, whether he can win," McDonnell <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/21/bob-mcdonnell-todd-akin_n_1818906.html?1345568504" target="_hplink">told The Huffington Post</a>. "I think there was a belief a month ago, when it was just he and [incumbent Sen. Claire] McCaskill head to head after he got the nomination, that it would be a hard-fought competitive race, with Romney at the top of the ticket and up double digits, that this would be a race that would be winnable for the Republicans," McDonnell said. "To say things that seemed to be so flat wrong and out of touch with both science and the people, I think it makes it very difficult at this point for him to win."
NRSC Chair Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)
"It is beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape ... The ideas that Todd Akin has expressed about the serious crime of rape and the impact on its victims are offensive."
Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan Campaign
"Gov. Romney and Congressman (Paul) Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin's statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape," Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said. "Congressman's Akin comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong," <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/314452/romney-akins-inexcusable-comment-robert-costa" target="_hplink">Romney said</a>. "Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive."
Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
"What he said is just flat wrong in addition to being wildly offensive to any victim of sexual abuse. Although Representative Akin has apologized, I believe he should take time with his family to consider whether this statement will prevent him from effectively representing our party in this critical election," said McConnell, according to the <a href="http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-pn-mcconnell-suggests-todd-akin-consider-his-options-20120820,0,5243455.story" target="_hplink"><em>Los Angeles Times</em></a>.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)
"As a husband and father of two young women, I found <a href="http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entry/scott-brown-calls-for-todd-akin-to-drop" target="_hplink">Todd Akin's comments</a> about women and rape outrageous, inappropriate and wrong. There is no place in our public discourse for this type of offensive thinking. Not only should he apologize, but I believe Rep. Akin's statement was so far out of bounds that he should resign the nomination for US Senate in Missouri."
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)
"Whether he has mispoken or whether he has a position that we would have trouble agreeing on, I don't know that. I do know him and I do know his family, and I'm impressed with what they've accomplished. So that's the best I can do with what little bit I know," <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDsQkjnQx5Y&feature=youtu.be" target="_hplink">said King</a>. And later: "I just haven't heard of that being a circumstance that's been brought to me in any personal way," he <a href="http://www.kmeg14.com/story/19324372/rep-steve-king-on-the-campaign-trail" target="_hplink">told KMEG</a>. "I'd be open to hearing discussion about that subject matter."
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.)
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)
"I have to agree with those, including Republicans, who have said he should give up his race for Senate," said Van Hollen on <a href="http://video.msnbc.msn.com/newsnation/48728017/#48728017" target="_hplink">NewsNation with Tamron Hall</a>.
Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.)
"Like Joe Biden's comments last week, I find Todd Akin's comments made Sunday to be just as outrageous and offensive. Such insulting and offensive remarks from Joe Biden and Todd Akin have no place in our political discourse," said Mack in a <a href="http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2012/08/connie-mack-cosponsor-of-forcible-rape-bill-links-akins-legitimate-rape-with-bidens-chains-.html" target="_hplink">press release</a>.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)
Former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.)
Talent, who once held the Senate seat Akin is running for, declined to endorse Akin on Monday. "It's a decision he has to make," Talent said when asked whether Akin should step aside, according to the <a href="http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-pn-todd-akin-stay-in-senate-race-20120820,0,2849040.story" target="_hplink"><em>Los Angeles Times</em></a>. "I can't agree with anything [Akin] said," Talent later clarified.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.)
"Now, Akin's choice of words isn't the real issue here. The <a href="http://www.politico.com/blogs/burns-haberman/2012/08/dnc-email-ties-romney-to-todd-akin-132522.html" target="_hplink">real issue</a> is a Republican party -- led by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan -- whose policies on women and their health are dangerously wrong. I'm outraged at the Republicans trying to take women back to the dark ages -- if you agree, join me in taking a stand for women. Really, it's deeply concerning that Republicans continue to support legislation that is, quite literally, dangerous for women. Mitt Romney famously says he would "get rid of" federal funding for Planned Parenthood if he had the chance. His running mate, Paul Ryan, was one of more than 200 Republican cosponsors of a piece of legislation that would have narrowed the definition of rape. Can you imagine -- the same Republican House that refuses to pass a jobs bill jumped at the opportunity to make life harder for victims of rape? And what do Romney and Ryan think of Akin's latest statement? They've been trying to distance themselves from it -- but Congressman Ryan has already partnered with Akin on a whole host of issues that restrict women's ability to make their own health care decisions."
Sarah Steelman, Akin's Former Primary Opponent
Terry O'Neill, President Of The National Organization For Women
"That kind of rhetoric re-traumatizes sexual assault victims. ... That kind of talk, I believe, is intended to shame women," she told the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/20/todd-akin-rape-comments_n_1810362.html?1345468189" target="_hplink">Associated Press radio</a>, characterizing the remarks as "flat-out astonishing."
Mike Murphy, GOP Consultant
Michelle Malkin, Conservative Columnist
Joe Scarborough, Host Of MSNBC's "Morning Joe"
"There is a rule," <a href="http://www.mediaite.com/tv/scarborough-reacts-to-akins-rape-remark-conservatives-neglecting-to-choose-the-most-electable-candidate/" target="_hplink">he [Scarborough] continued</a>, "that we conservatives have followed for a long time, and it's the 'Bill Buckley Rule.' You elect the most electable conservative. The person who is the most conservative and who is the most electable is the one you put on the ticket. That's the part of the equation that we're losing over the last three years. And it's making Harry Reid the majority leader."
Bryan Fischer, Conservative Radio Host
Tom Perriello, President Of Center For American Progress Action Fund
Petition By The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
<blockquote><a href="http://dccc.org/pages/denounce-todd-akin?source=2012.08.20_kw_all" target="_hplink">Sign your name to call</a> on Speaker John Boehner to remove Rep. Todd Akin from the House Science and Technology Committee. Republican Congressman Todd Akin told a Missouri news station: "First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare... If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." Someone who believes nonsense like this has no part overseeing science policy. Tell Speaker Boehner to immediately remove Rep. Akin from the House Science and Technology Committee.</blockquote>
Susan B. Anthony List
<blockquote>"Congressman Akin, a longtime pro-life leader, has said he had misspoken, and no one is arguing that rape is anything but a despicable, horrible crime. "Abortion supporters like Sen. Claire McCaskill are trying to use this issue as a smokescreen to hide from their radical, pro-abortion records that are out of step with the majority of Missourians and the American people. On the issues of taxpayer funding of elective abortion in Obamacare, protection of unborn girls being targeted in the womb solely because of their gender, and whether children capable of feeling pain in the womb should be protected, President Obama and Senator McCaskill have been on the wrong side, showing that they favor abortion on-demand, for any reason, up to the moment of birth, subsidized by the taxpayers. "If President Obama and Senator McCaskill care to focus on extreme positions, it is time for self reflection. It is time to answer the question why this president has recently rejected bans on gender selection and late term abortions. "Todd Akin, on the other hand, has a record of voting to protect human life. His opponent does not. Congressman Akin has been an excellent partner in the fight for the unborn."</blockquote>
Tea Party Express
<a href="http://www.teapartyexpress.org/5205/tea-party-express-urges-rep-akin-to-step-down" target="_hplink">Tea Party Express</a>, the nation's largest tea party political action committee, is urging Congressman Todd Akin to resign his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. Tea Party Express Chairman Amy Kremer said, "Congressman Akin's comments this weekend are not just unfortunate and inappropriate, but they are distracting from our main goal of defeating Claire McCaskill and taking the Senate gavel out of the hands of Harry Reid. At a time when our national debt is approaching $16 trillion, job growth is stagnate, and the Senate has failed to pass a budget in over 3 years, we need a candidate that is ready to help lead the charge for conservative solutions. "One of the lessons we learned in 2010 is that we need candidates who are not only conservative, but are capable of putting together a strong campaign against liberal opponents. Akin's frequent 'Bidenisms' are distracting from the important issues at hand. "It is critical that we defeat Senator Claire McCaskill in November, but it will be too difficult to achieve that with Todd Akin as the conservative alternative. He should step down and give conservatives a chance at taking back the Senate in November," Kremer concluded.