December 28, 2012
The 2012 election cycle served as a reminder that campaigns are unpredictable. In fact, some of the most pivotal points of the past two years were unforeseen events that quickly shaped the political landscape.
Today, we look back at the biggest turning points of the 2012 cycle in the battles for the White House, the Senate and the House. These are the most significant moments that left broad marks extending well beyond a single candidate or race.
Overall, no other moment stood out as much as Senate candidate Todd Akin’s remark in an August interview that “legitimate rape” rarely causes pregnancy. Not only did it sink the GOP’s hopes in a race it had long been bullish about and needed badly to win back the Senate majority; it also forced every other prominent Republican across the country to weigh in, and was affixed in the minds of many voters when another Republican Senate candidate later stoked controversy with a remark about rape and pregnancy.
Aware that Representative Akin (R-Mo.) was prone to saying controversial things, Democrats sought to elevate him in the primary, spending money on paid media efforts aimed at helping the congressman outrun the competition. It worked, and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) got exactly the opponent she wanted for the general election.
Even as McCaskill’s team was pleased with the outcome on the GOP side, her vulnerable standing and Missouri’s Republican tilt meant the Democrat still faced an uphill climb coming out of the primary against Akin. While the congressman’s words had gotten him in hot water in the past, none of his previous remarks were as damaging as what he would go on to say in August.
Immediately after Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment, Republicans across the country were asked to weigh in. Most, including Mitt Romney, swiftly denounced his remarks and called on Akin to end his campaign. Republican groups that would have otherwise been expected to provide him with reinforcements ran far away from him.
(Though the National Republican Senatorial Committee funneled money though the Missouri GOP to help Akin in the closing stage of the race).
Making matters worse for the GOP, Akin didn’t drop out. He stayed in until the end, allowing McCaskill’s campaign to air ads referencing the remark. The spots received national media coverage and reminded voters in states other than Missouri about what he said. Akin lost in November by nearly 16 points in a state Romney carried by nearly 10.
What’s more, the issues of rape and pregnancy were fresh in voters’ minds when Indiana GOP Senate nominee Richard Mourdock said in a late October debate, “I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” Mourdock’s remark sunk his already struggling candidacy, robbing Senate Republicans of another seat in GOP-leaning state they wouldn’t have imagined losing a year prior.
As Republicans try to repair a struggling brand and seek to undo some of the political damage they sustained in 2012, ensuring that future Senate nominees do not resemble Akin must surely be at or near the top of the priority list.
Below is our take on the biggest turning points in the race for the presidency and control of the House: