Deserted by the Republican Party and condemned by critics, he has harsh words for former allies but no intention of dropping his bid.
OSBORN, Missouri -- At a cattle auction here late last month, drought-stricken farmers expecting to appraise livestock found themselves instead looking over the country's most-vilified Senate candidate.
Rep. Todd Akin was four-and-a-half hours and a tax bracket or two away from his prosperous, suburban St. Louis congressional district. Accompanied by his wife and three aides, Akin was making the second stop of his first day of public campaigning for the Senate after his statement that "legitimate rape" rarely causes pregnancy. In the 12 days since, he had rocketed from being a mostly unknown figure -- even within his own Republican Party -- to being a political pariah drawing unfavorable reviews from most Missouri voters. He had received death and rape threats. And Akin was surely aware that people he met -- even out here in Osborn -- saw him first as the guy who uttered the words "legitimate rape."
But he plunged right in, introducing himself to anyone who missed the "Todd Akin" sticker on his shirt, and talking one-on-one with coffee-sipping farmers. In the process, he made it clear why he is remaining in the race against Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill -- and why he is probably going to lose.
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One reason involves the loaves and the fishes. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has booked about $5 million worth of airtime for McCaskill, who entered the fall with $3 million of her own money in reserve. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, meantime, said it will not spend a dime for Akin, who has quickly exhausted the $425,000 that his campaign said it raised online between his August 19 "rape" remark and this week.
Akin likes to note that he prevailed in a primary in which he was also outspent. His wife, Lulli, who plays a major role in this campaign and, like her husband, is a born-again Christian, said that their campaign funding at this point depends on God. The couple are members of the Presbyterian Church in America.
"God can increase," she said, citing the "Feeding of the 5,000" -- a Gospel miracle in which Jesus uses five small barley loaves and two small fish to feed a multitude. The campaign will take small contributions, "respect them, and say 'God, multiply it. Make it pay,'" Lulli Akin said. "It brought us through the primary, same way. We're gonna see it again, because God wants to be honored."
While Akin was here discussing grain prices with one farmer, McCaskill was preparing to reach Missouri's 6 million residents with a television ad touting her moderate voting record, an ad buy that Akin could not afford to effectively counter. That problem will worsen for him after a September 25 deadline for petitioning to get off ballot -- the last chance Akin has to leave the race. That's when Democrats will likely unleash an onslaught of millions of dollars' worth of negative ads.
That's a lot of loaves and a lot of fishes. And the financial imbalance, more than polling, is the reason campaign analysts call McCaskill a strong favorite to win the race.
"IT'S BIGGER THAN ME"
The Akins' faith is evident in their personal life. They homeschooled their six children. The six-term House member has a master's degree in divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. Faith forms Akin's political identity as well. The animating concept of his campaign is the notion in the Declaration of Independence that God grants Americans their rights. He has said that promoting that message is the "cause" for which he defied calls by Republican Party leaders and others to quit the race. Akin credits God, too, for the principle that citizens should elect their government, a right that he says would be violated if "party bosses" forced his exit.
"It's bigger than me," Akin told about 20 people at a meet and greet in Plattsburg, 50 minutes north of Kansas City and his next stop after the cattle auction. "I am very into the idea of principle and not very tolerant of politics -- and a whole lot less so than I was before."
Despite being left for roadkill by his own party, Akin has supporters; he told them in Plattsburg that's he's staying in the race until November. His voice quivering, he said he takes "very seriously" supporters who say, "'I trust you because I know you're an honest man.'"
"A lot of people don't understand me exactly," Akin said. "When I say something, I do what I say I am going do."
Republicans in Missouri -- lawmakers, political operatives, and others -- seem to uniformly share Akin's assessment that the furor over his remark left him poorly understood. And they agree that Akin, even after a dozen years each in the Missouri state House and the U.S. House, has never "been a party person, particularly," as he put it.
"He has never really understood the political process and never really reached out to others," said one Republican in the state. The operative described Akin's unfamiliarity with major Missouri donors with whom other state Republicans keep close contact.
"He is unique," said former Republican Senator John Danforth, who argued that Akin's highlighting of divisive social issues undermines Republicans' focus on the economy and debt. "He is unique, because unlike everybody else I have ever seen in politics, he has taken the banner and marched into the woods."
Akin highlights Republican leaders' difficulty in managing their compact with Tea Partiers and social conservatives. The GOP seeks their votes but real, conscience-driven candidates pose problems. Those who are willing to lose on principle often do.
But while pundits find it tempting to tout Akin's continuing candidacy as emblematic of the tea party, social conservatives, born-again Christians, or of the rightward drift of Missouri politics, Akin is of a different sort. He is part of all those things. But he is not particularly representative of them, any more than he represents the Republican Party.
Akin was born in New York City, earned an engineering degree at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, and worked for IBM outside Boston for four years. That is no standard résumé for a Midwestern archconservative. He was raised and lived for much of his adulthood in the leafy city of Town and Country, one of the wealthy St. Louis suburbs that make up much of his district. The lawmaker and his constituents are a long way from many of the financially struggling rural and exurban voters whose support he needs in November.
These days, Akin repeatedly asks voters to ignore "distractions" and instead compare his voting record with McCaskill's. Her affinity with President Obama is her chief vulnerability in this right-leaning state and the reason that, before Akin's controversial remarks, Republicans were gleefully chalking up the race in the win column. At the meet-and-greet, Akin said that McCaskill has voted with Obama 98 percent of the time and was "hugging on him and loving on him" during one of the president's appearances in the state.