Susan Davis, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - Democrats are leading in two of 2012's highest profile U.S. Senate races in Missouri and Indiana, where Republican candidates have faltered over controversial statements on rape and abortion rights.
GOP losses in the two states could put the Senate majority out of contention for Republicans, who control 47 seats today and need to gain four seats on Tuesday to take control. Republicans held early advantages the two conservative states, but their previously formidable polling leads have disappeared.
"These are two states that were definitely on the Republican's path to 51 (seats) but now Democrats look like they're in good position in both of them," said Reid Wilson, an election analyst for National Journal's Hotline.
Once considered the incumbent Democrat most-likely-to-lose, Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri has led in all but one of 13 polls taken since Republican opponent Todd Akin spoke of "legitimate rape" in an August local television interview and said women's bodies are capable of preventing pregnancy when raped.
Polling averages compiled by RealClearPolitics.com gives McCaskill a 5-percentage point lead heading in to the pre-Election Day weekend. Forecasters including The Rothenberg Political Report and The Cook Political Report both favor her for re-election, but Akin's campaign has shown no signs of quitting.
In the final week, Akin is on the air with a six-figure television ad buys that feature two women, one a rape victim, speaking on his behalf, in an ongoing effort to make up lost ground among the state's women voters. "He's a kind man, a compassionate man. He has so much integrity," the woman states.
Now or Never PAC, an outside super PAC that has supported GOP congressional candidates, is also up with ad that makes the case less for Akin and more for the importance of a GOP-controlled Senate. "You don't have to agree with everything he says, but you can be sure, in the Senate, Akin will vote for (Republican nominee Mitt) Romney's policies," the ad states.
In Indiana, the clock is running out for Republican Richard Mourdock to shape public opinion after he stirred controversy during his Senate debate with Democratic opponent Rep. Joe Donnelly when he suggested pregnancy resulting from rape was God's decision. "The Mourdock numbers are getting worse by the day," Wilson said.
A Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll released Friday gave Donnelly an 11-point lead, 47%-36%, which the Mourdock campaign quickly dismissed, citing internal numbers that show the race much tighter. Polling in Indiana has been minimal and sporadic all year because the state strictly regulates polling. Neither Donnelly nor Mourdock has ever polled above 50% in a public survey. Cook and Rothenberg still rate the race a toss-up.
However, if Democrats pick-up the Indiana seat currently held by GOP Sen. Richard Lugar, it will all but erase any prospect of taking over the Senate chamber, Wilson said. "There's no path (if Mourdock loses) primarily because Republicans would have to reach so far in to Democratic-safe states. It would require a Republican wave that simply doesn't exist."