Akin’s ‘Macaca moment’ could flip the Senate race

Missouri Republican Rep. Todd Akin woke up Sunday morning with a 65 percent chance of unseating incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in the upcoming Senate race. By the end of the day, after facing a torrent of criticism over his claim that women rarely get pregnant as a result of "legitimate rape," the tables had turned: Our real-time predictions now give McCaskill a 60 percent chance of retaining her seat.

It is not too soon to speculate that this could be the 2012 variety of George Allen's 2006 "Macaca moment," which was instrumental in the incumbent senator's defeat. That narrow loss, as well as several others, cost the Republicans control of the Senate by one seat that year.

The Senate hangs in an equally fine balance this year. Before Akin's odds went south, the Republicans were on track to control 50 seats to the Democrats' 49, plus one independent. While that figure will almost certainly wobble between now and November, it is eminently possible that one seat will make the difference.

Our prediction represents the likelihood of McCaskill retaining her seat, however, not of her defeating Akin. There are already calls for Akin to drop out of the race. If he is booted from the ticket, the new candidate may regain some ground given that the climate in Missouri favors Republicans this cycle.

For the time being, with Maine likely to send an independent to the Senate who will probably caucus with the Democrats, the incumbent party now has an increased likelihood of outright control of 51 seats, something that seemed more remote on Sunday morning.