Missouri Senate: Move to Pure Toss-up

August 21, 2012 · 2:48 PM EDT

Two weeks ago, we were preparing to move the Missouri Senate race from Toss-up/Tilt Republican to Lean Republican, if either businessman John Brunner or former state treasurer Sarah Steelman had won the GOP Senate primary on August 7 and the right to face Sen. Claire McCaskill (D).

Now, after Republican Senate nominee Rep. Todd Akin’s comments about rape, we are moving the race to pure Toss-up.

While suggestions that Akin’s comments could impact the presidential race or the fight for the House or the Senate strike us as exaggerated, it’s very possible that Akin’s own prospects have been damaged dramatically.

If the congressman, who has a history of poor fundraising, can’t raise money and national Republican groups refuse to advertise on his behalf, it’s hard to see how he can weather an onslaught of Democratic ads. Obviously, if this were to happen, we would move the race toward McCaskill. Without an NRSC independent expenditure effort for Akin, he would need to rely on social conservatives to fund his campaign.

Akin has injected religious and cultural issues into the Senate race, and while Missouri is a culturally conservative state, the congressman’s insistence to keep talking about abortion and religion makes no sense strategically. McCaskill was a relatively easy target for the GOP because of her voting record, statements of support for President Obama and her own personal and family baggage. Akin now runs the risk of turning a referendum on McCaskill into a referendum on himself.

We will let this race find its “new normal” over the next few weeks before deciding how seriously Akin has been hurt. And, of course, the congressman could still petition a state court to allow him to drop out before the September 25th deadline. But there is no doubt that, at this point, Akin has turned what should have been a comfortable victory into a much different race that enhances McCaskill’s chances of winning another term.

Akin’s new problems obviously impact the GOP’s prospects for winning control of the Senate, magnifying the importance of several other contests and forcing the GOP to win the bulk of competitive races.