Senator Claire McCaskill did something few thought possible last night - she won a decisive re-election victory over Representative Todd Akin in one of the most closely watched Congressional races in the country.
It was a remarkable turn of events. This time last year, Claire McCaskill was widely considered among the most vulnerable incumbent Democrats in the U.S. Senate, and in her acceptance speech last night, she acknowledged as much.
"There was a lot of the political chattering classes spouting a lot of information about the Senate race in Missouri, and they all said, it's over, it's done. It's too red, it's just too red. There is no way that Claire McCaskill can survive," the Senator told thrilled supporters.
Polls showed her losing to just about any Republican. Sharks were circling. Big conservative PACS, including Crossroads GPS, were already attacking and poised to spend untold millions painting McCaskill as an Obama puppet. She was an early supporter of the President, and, in a state that has already voted to ban a key provision of the bill, a staunch defender of the Obama healthcare overhaul. (As expected, Obama was soundly defeated in Missouri last night.)
But, while McCaskill's stand on healthcare may have hurt her with most Missouri voters, Lisa Adams, a volunteer from St. Peters, said it motivated her.
"I had breast cancer," Adams said last night. "I had my breasts removed, and I'm having surgeries done still. I had chemo and radiation, and everything, but I'm going through a divorce and losing my health insurance. And people who have preexisting conditions can't get health insurance, except for this affordable healthcare plan."
McCaskill’s biggest stroke of good luck, though, was something Todd Akin said in a television interview, not long after winning the August primary: "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut the whole thing down."
Akin apologized repeatedly for that statement but very rapidly went from being ten points ahead in the polls to about ten points down. His party, Karl Rove, even Mitt Romney himself, publicly called for Akin to get out of the race. Big donors pulled their funding. But Akin defied the party establishment, to the delight of his supporters like Liz Becker, who ran the group Missouri Women for Akin.
"It's been an opportunity for a lot of good conservative people to come together, and we've all kind of stretched outside our comfort zones and stood up for what we think is right and good," Becker said.
Grassroots support enlivened the campaign. Akin pulled to within two percentage points in a recent Kansas City Star poll, which was within the poll’s margin of error. Still, the crowd at the Akin watch party in Chesterfield on Tuesday was subdued most of the evening. And finally their man conceded.
"The way the numbers are looking, we've lost this race," Akin told a somber crowd. "I always said, don't trust those polls, and that's been true."
It turned out Akin was in much worse shape than the polls had indicated. McCaskill buried him, winning by more than 14 percent. The victory was widespread, McCaskill noted in her acceptance speech.
"Guess what, Mom, I think we finally won in rural Missouri!" McCaskill shouted. The Senator dedicated her victory to her mother, Betty Ann Ward McCaskill, who died last week.
And only a few minutes after Claire McCaskill gave her acceptance speech, CNN called the presidential race. Supporters screamed and literally jumped for joy at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis.