Todd Akin’s comment that the female body can prevent pregnancy in the case of “legitimate rape” may yet sink his Missouri Senate candidacy, but it has sent both Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren scrambling for political gain in their Massachusetts campaign.
Brown moved quickly, becoming one of the first prominent members of the party to call for Akin to drop out of his race.
The move dovetails with his over-arching strategy of distancing himself from the GOP where possible, and expressing bipartisanship when able, as he seeks the votes of independents and nontraditional Republican voters in heavily Democratic Massachusetts.
With equal speed, Warren has sought to connect Brown not just to Akin, but to a larger thematic: that electing candidates like them to the Senate could give the chamber a Republican majority that is hostile to women.
Her plan has been to strip away what she views as a veneer of bipartisanship. She is aiming to more broadly align Brown with Republicans who want to cut social spending, repeal financial regulations, and block efforts to let George W. Bush-era tax cuts for wealthy Americans expire.
One political analyst has called the Akin responses a tie, if not a victory for Brown.
“Both sides have lunatic fringes, and it’s really important to act quickly when someone on your lunatic fringe does something lunatic,” said Boston College political science professor Marc Landy. “From Mitt Romney to Scott Brown and other Republicans, they all did that, so, sorry, Elizabeth.”
Marjorie Clapprood, a Democrat, former radio talk show host, and past member of the Massachusetts House, said Akin’s comment has provided “a good opportunity for both of the candidates to articulate and clarify their positions on all women's issues.”
That presents a special opportunity for Warren, Clapprood said, because women often view abortion — let alone questions of rape — as a litmus test when weighing candidates.
Brown, who shares political advisers with presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, admitted the peril his own campaign faced by issuing a statement Monday morning.
He spoke out less than 24 hours after Akin made his comment, under an hour after Romney condemned it during an interview with the National Review, and 15 minutes after President Obama ventured into the White House Briefing Room to declare that the American people disagreed with the Missouri congressman.
“As a husband and father of two young women, I found Todd Akin’s comments about women and rape outrageous, inappropriate, and wrong,” Brown said. “There is no place in our public discourse for this type of offensive thinking.”
After the platform committee for the Republican National Convention voted Tuesday in for a plank banning abortion even in the case of rape or incest, Brown sought to separate himself from his party by calling on it to be more inclusive on the subject of abortion rights.
“Even while I am pro-choice, I respect those who have a different opinion on this very difficult and sensitive issue,” the senator wrote in an open letter to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. “Our party platform should make the same concession to those of us who believe in a woman’s right to choose.”
On Wednesday, his campaign manager boasted about their rapid response strategy in a publicly released memorandum to “interested parties.”
“Senator Brown’s quick reaction condemning Representative Akin’s comments, and calling for him to resign his US Senate nomination (the first high-profile Republican in the country to do so), and his call for the national Republican Party to make its platform more open and welcoming to pro-choice voters, serve to reinforce Brown’s independence,” Brown adviser Jim Barnett wrote.
Warren jumped on the issue in a statement issued Monday an hour after Brown’s.
“The agenda of the Republican Party is to limit access to health care services. It’s to deny women equal pay for equal work. It’s to cut funding for Planned Parenthood,” the Democrat said.
In a radio ad released Wednesday, Warren did not mention Brown by name but implicitly linked him to Romney and Paul Ryan, his vice presidential running mate.
“If Republicans control the Senate, they decide who sits on the Supreme Court and whether we could lose Roe v. Wade,” the ad says.
Clapprood said neither Brown nor Warren “has minimized the enormous gaffe that the candidate made,” but Warren has a responsibility as a candidate to connect Brown to the views of his own party, while Brown has been smart to quickly point out the differences between his beliefs and Akin’s views.
Clapprood said that the incident argues not so much for a Democratic majority in the Senate as “more women to speak to these issues with a legitimate and authoritative voice.”
If Massachusetts voters were to agree, it would benefit Warren.