(Kansas City Star)
A party already struggling to win support from women faced a setback when U.S. Rep. Todd Akin – a Republican running for the U.S. Senate against a woman – used the befuddling term “legitimate rape.”
National public opinion polls show President Barack Obama holds a small but relatively consistent lead among women voters. In a CNN poll two weeks ago, Democrat Obama led Republican Mitt Romney by 9 points among women voters, but only 6 with men. Other polls have shown a larger gender gap, particularly with single women.
The Republican Akin’s comments – for which he apologized Monday – may widen that gap, said Mona Lyne, chairwoman of the political science department at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
“Especially younger women voters, who are hooked into social media,” she said. “This just went viral immediately. … I think Claire McCaskill is very happy about this.”
McCaskill, the Democratic incumbent, wasn’t a lock with women voters before Akin’s interview comments. Indeed, in a Survey USA poll released this month, she trailed Akin by 14 points among women voters but just 9 points with men.
A gender gap isn’t an issue only in Missouri. In the presidential campaign, and in House and Senate races, any lingering problems with Akin’s statements could be damaging, Lyne said.
“Romney came out right away and tried to distance himself from this,” she said. Akin’s comments fed “into the narrative of the ‘war on women,’ and that these people don’t understand women. The comments he made were so incredibly off.”
Even some conservative writers made similar comments.
“Akin will become the left’s wedge to drive the gender gap wider to help Democrats and ultimately Obama in Missouri and nationally,” wrote columnist Bryan Preston at PJMedia, a conservative website.
Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia, said the Akin stumble may complicate the GOP’s outreach to women voters.