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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Missouri Senate Poll Shows McCaskill\'s Lead Narrowing

KANSAS CITY, Mo. â€" The Missouri Senate race has narrowed to a dead heat, according to a new poll released on Saturday, a drastic turnaround since Representative Todd Akin, the Republican challenging incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill, upended the race with controversial comments about rape two months ago.

Ms. McCaskill, a first-term Democrat, holds a 45 percent to 43 percent edge, which is within the 4 percent margin of sampling error of the Mason-Dixon Poll, which was commissioned by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, News 4 and the Kansas City Star. The same poll showed Ms. McCaskill with a nine-point edge (50-41) in the immediate aftermath of Mr. Akin's remark in August that in cases of “legitimate rape,” women's bodies had a natural way of fighting off pregnancy.

Mr. Akin's campaign touted the poll in a press release sent out on Saturday morning.

“We were very excited to see the poll,” said Rick Tyler, a spokesman for the Akin campaign, noting Ms. McCaskill's large fundraising advantage in the race. “It just tells me that no amount of advertising and distraction is going to convince the voters to send Claire McCaskill back to Washington.”

The new poll also appeared to grab the attention of the McCaskill campaign, which quickly released the results of its own internal poll on Saturday morning, showing the incumbent senator with a much wider lead.

“While polls in this race have varied, the clear pattern to emerge over the last few weeks is that Claire is consistently leading Akin by a much wider margin,” Caitlin Legacki, a spokeswoman for Ms. McCaskill, said in a statement. “Keep in mind that Mason-Dixon badly missed the mark 10 days before the Senate primary.”

In that poll, Mr. Akin was third among the Republican primary candidates, with just 17 percent of the vote, 16 points behind the frontrunner, John Brunner. Mr. Mr. Akin ended up winning by 6 points with 36 percent of the vote.

Still, the tightened poll presents a dilemma for the national Republican establishment, which quickly abandoned Mr. Akin after his rape comments and urged him to drop out of the race. When he refused to give up his candidacy in favor of another candidate, several deep-pocketed Republican groups said they still would not support him with the millions of dollars they had previously promised because they did not believe he could win the race.

But this race, like all of the other close Senate battles around the country, is seen as critical in Republican efforts to win control of the chamber. The Akin campaign has said it believed the party would have to return to its corner because of the importance of the race. The challenge for Mr. Akin has been to show that he presented a realistic chance of winning. Polling data over the past couple of months has been all over the map, which may cause Republican donors to continue to balk on spending in M issouri as they invest in several other competitive races in other states.

The nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report on Friday moved the Missouri Senate race more comfortably in Ms. McCaskill's direction to favored Democrat.

“We hope that Congressman Akin wins next month and we continue to closely monitor the race,” said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which withdrew a pledge to spend $3 million on the race after Mr. Akin's rape remark.

Spokesmen for American Crossroads, a ”super PAC” founded by Karl Rove that had planned to spend $2.3 million, did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday morning.
Ms. McCaskill raised more than three and a half times as much money ($5.8 million to $1.6 million) as Mr. Akin during the third quarter and spent more than four and a half times as much.

The new poll of 625 likely voters, interviewed on Tuesday through Thursday, showed that Mr. Akin cut his de ficit among female voters in half, to 9 points from 18. It shows Mr. Akin with comfortable leads in all parts of the state except the two major metropolitan hubs, Kansas City and St. Louis.

Ms. McCaskill's favorability rating continued to be a nagging concern, with 47 percent of those polled viewing her unfavorably, compared with 42 percent for Mr. Akin. Ms. McCaskill does, however have a wide lead over Mr. Akin on the favorable side, 40 percent to 28 percent.

The economy, jobs, healthcare and Medicare were the most important issues for 63 percent of voters who had made up their minds, according to the poll. Mr. Akin's rape remarks were either somewhat important or very important to 53 percent of decided voters, the poll said.

The poll also showed Mitt Romney increasing his lead over President Obama in the state to 13 percentage points, 54 percent to 41 percent.