ST. LOUIS â Nearly 400 Missouri pastors gathered at the podium of a hotel ballroom recently to pray over the kneeling figure of Rep. Todd Akin, a Senate candidate whose campaign had been pronounced dead by national Republican leaders weeks before.
Akinâs political revival has become a cause celebre for this group of clerics and other conservatives, who have launched a carefully orchestrated effort to lift the GOP candidate back into contention for a seat that could help decide control of the Senate.
âPeople are drawn to Akinâs cause because they see it as the opening battle for the soul of the Republican Party,â said strategist David Lane, who has spent months in the state organizing pastors to fight for Akin, at times bucking the wishes of GOP leaders in Washington. Akinâs campaign, Lane said, represents the fight against establishment politicians, their consultants and âa morally flawed approach to politics.â
Akin faces an uphill battle against incumbent Claire McCaskill (D), who remains far ahead in fundraising and has a steady lead in the polls. But recent surveys show the race tightening, with Akin closing the 10-point advantage the senator held a month ago.
âWhat weâre hearing, in county after county, is people saying: âWeâre on board behind you. We like the idea that you stand up. We want somebody whoâs a stand-up guy,ââ Akin said after the two-day meeting of clergy in a Renaissance Hotel here.
The revival spirit circling around Akin, who has served six terms in the House, contrasts sharply with the mood in August, when protests erupted over his comment that pregnancies are rare in cases of âlegitimate rapeâ because âthe female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.â
Akin apologized, saying he had made âa very, very serious error.â But his poll numbers collapsed, and Republican luminaries â including presidential nominee Mitt Romney and strategist Karl Rove â called for him to withdraw from the Senate race. Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and other GOP operatives vowed to starve Akinâs campaign of financial and other support.
Akin refused to quit and has gradually drawn the support of notable conservatives, including former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), who has visited the state. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) are expected this month, along with former congressman J.C. Watts (Okla.) and Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.), whose Senate Conservatives Fund pledged $300,000 to Akinâs campaign.
The candidateâs strategists include battle-tested veterans: Rick Tyler, a longtime aide to Gingrich; Santorum adviser Andrew Boucher; and Alice Patterson and Lane, who in 2010 planned the campaign to remove three Iowa Supreme Court judges for their decision to allow same-sex marriage in the state.
The national attention has helped Akin raise $1 million through the end of last week, his campaign said. McCaskill reported raising $5.8 million in the last quarter, a record amount for Missouri candidates.