No One Wants The Lead In Missouri Senate Race

Kyle Leighton
No One Wants The Lead In Missouri Senate Race

Typically, it's considered good news to lead an important race. In Missouri, it's a cause for anger and wild accusations.

Rep. Todd Akin's explosive comments about rape and pregnancy have thrown a bizarre wrench in the Senate race, as partisans on both sides of the aisle claim that pollsters are artificially underestimating the other side's standing -- on purpose.

Democratic-leaning pollster Public Policy Polling (PPP) went into the field Monday night -- roughly 24 hours after Akin's initial comments set off a firestorm.

Republicans, determined not to let the outrage over Akin's comments imperil their shot at ousting Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, urged Akin to leave the race in time for a Tuesday night deadline to easily replace him on the ballot.

The PPP poll showed Akin with a 1-point lead, 44 percent to 43 percent, even though only 16 percent of the 500 likely voters reached were unfamiliar with his comments.

But their candidate's buoyancy did nothing to comfort Republicans. And some quickly began to wonder whether the poll was a covert attempt to persuade Akin to stay in, thereby sinking their cause.

"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?" National review asked.

PPP pollster Tom Jensen refuted that accusation:

If you really delve into our poll I think the findings are pretty reasonable. People didn't like what Akin said, but that doesn't change the fact that McCaskill is a deeply unpopular incumbent. We found that Akin's comments weren't enough to make Republicans who hate McCaskill actually decide to vote for her. In all the news the past couple days I still don't think you've heard many/any Republicans say they're going to vote McCaskill because of this and our numbers reflect that. I think McCaskill was probably going to lose by a good 6-8 points before this and now I think the race is a toss up. McCaskill could well win but if she does it's going to be by 3-4 points, not 13-14. And Akin if he really stays in could just as easily win by 3-4.

Akin's campaign commissioned its own snap poll to gauge the reaction from the Missouri electorate, and found similar results, which he cited as the reason he stayed in the race.

But on Thursday morning, Republicans' favorite pollster, Rasmussen Reports, showed McCaskill ahead by 10 points, a stunning reversal after trailing virtually every prospective Republican nominee throughout the year.

"What a difference one TV interview can make," Rasmussen wrote in its analysis. "Most Missouri Republicans want Akin to quit the race while most Missouri Democrats want him to stay."

That gave Democrats, including McCaskill herself, their own chance to cry foul.

"Rasmussen poll made me laugh out loud. If anyone believes that, I just turned 29. Sneaky stuff," McCaskill tweeted, not long after the Rasmussen poll dropped.

One Missouri Republican welcomed the results, and added an unusual request.

"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," Perry Akin, Akin's campaign manager and son, said in a statement. "If she can't break fifty percent after a week like this, Democrats should ask Claire to step down."


Pollster Scott Rasmussen shrugged off the skepticism, chalking the whole thing up to the "silliness of campaign season."

"Politicians obviously have things they need to say -- she had her spin on it, the Akin campaign also had their spin on it, but the fact remains that Republicans and unaffiliated voters are less enthusiastic about Akin than they were before," he told TPM. "The biggest change was that Akins' support amongst Republicans went from 86 to 70 percent, and 13 percent of Republicans now say they prefer another candidate."