The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
This week Politico published an excerpt from Sen. Claire McCaskill's forthcoming book in which she describes how she helped Todd Akin win the Republican Senate primary in Missouri because she believed he would make for an easier opponent than the other candidates vying for the Republican nomination.
In the excerpt, Sen. McCaskill describes how she sought to reinforce the perception that Akin was the most conservative candidate in the Republican primary, as that would help him with primary voters. She also describes how she sought to communicate with the Akin campaign, through intermediaries, to help the Akin campaign refine its message in the closing days of the campaign. Here is the relevant excerpt from the Politico story:
A Post-Dispatch poll conducted July 23-25 showed [John] Brunner leading the race at 33 percent, followed by [Sarah] Steelman at 27, and Akin at 17. But our polling showed the race was tightening, with Brunner still up by a point or two and Steelman solidly in third. Then, unexpectedly, the Akin camp took down one of his own ads that had been so effective. In it Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and a leading voice in the conservative movement, endorsed Akin and explained his reasoning looking straight into the camera. It was powerful, but Akin's camp replaced it with Akin talking about "flames of freedom." What were they thinking? Akin didn't have money for polling, but we had been tracking the numbers carefully and concluded that he'd be in trouble if he didn't get the Huckabee ad back up.
On the Thursday before the election, I called Ron Gladney, the husband of Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, a Republican from Missouri. I asked him if he could get a message to the Akin camp to put the Huckabee ad back up. Of course Gladney started laughing and asked, "Are you kidding?" "No," I replied. "If he gets the Huckabee ad back up by Friday, he's going to win." I also placed a call to Michael Kelley, a Democratic Party and labor operative who was friends with a former Akin staffer, and asked him to convey the same message to the Akin camp. A short time later my campaign manager, Adrianne Marsh, got a call from the Akin campaign. The person on the line wanted to talk to our pollster. Adrianne called me, and I gave clearance, allowing Kiley to speak in broad generalities. Three hours later the Huckabee ad was back up.
I will defer to others as to whether this constitutes prohibited coordination under existing election laws, but it certainly raises a red flag. As Rick Hasen noted on Twitter, whether McCaskill's actions were legal is a "serious question." I suspect he'll have more on this later at the Election Law Blog.
(Hat tip: Hasen and Rep. Justin Amash)
UPDATE: Rick Hasen has more here.
SECOND UPDATE: More from the Kansas City Star. Be sure to also check out the updates to Rick Hasen's post above: "I'm not suggesting the Senator broke the law, but there is enough here to justify a closer look."