A member of the Missouri delegation at the Republican National Convention said the controversy over remarks by U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin have been a distraction in Tampa.
“When people see where we are from Missouri, they want to talk about it and get a sense of where we stand,” Susan “Susie” Eckelkamp said Wednesday.
Eckelkamp, vice chairman of the Missouri Republican state committee, acknowledged that the Akin flap has been “frustrating” and “hard to avoid” but that the buzz seemed to die down as the convention wore on.
“It has been a icebreaker and a conversation starter, that’s for sure,” she said. “But it’s awkward in the sense that we want to have a really positive message. It’s frustrating because it has changed the focus of the campaign. We understand social issues are important, but its not what we wanted to focus on in this election. The economy and getting people back to work is what we wanted our message to be.”
Eckelkamp said she hadn’t read news reports from earlier in the week that described the Missouri delegation as “angry” over comments by Mitt Romney and others in Republican leadership asking Akin to withdraw from the Missouri Senate race over comments he made two weeks ago concerning rape and abortion.
Akin subsequently apologized for the remarks saying he “miss-spoke.” In interviews this week Akin has steadfastly reaffirmed he is not quitting the race.
Eckelkamp said she thought the Missouri delegation was split about 60-40 with the majority wanting Akin to step aside.
“It’s (the Missouri delegation) split. The 40 percent who want him to stay in the race are very vocal. He has grassroot support, there’s no question about that. We are just trying to keep this from being a huge distraction,” she added.
Eckelkamp, a 1977 graduate of St. Francis Borgia High School, said Akin’s remarks were “offensive” and “ill-informed” but declined to give her opinion as to whether Akin should stay in the race citing her position as a party official.
She said that while the party did ask Akin not to attend the convention, they have not officially asked him to withdraw from the race.
The Associated Press reported last week that Missouri Republican Party Chairman David Cole said in a memo to members of the state committee that Akin’s comments about pregnancy and rape are “not just a distraction” but pose a threat to our party’s chances of retaking control of the U.S. Senate” and could affect other Missouri races. The memo did not expressly request Akin to withdraw.
Eckelkamp said that the buzz over Akin’s comments had died down by Thursday. She said delegates and the press were turning their attention to the speakers and the Republican message.
“If anything, getting together in Tampa gave Missouri Republicans a chance to determine where everyone stood (on the Akin controversy) and to hear people’s reasoning on the issue,” she added.
Eckelkamp, who arrived in Tampa last Wednesday, said she was impressed with the convention and the speakers.
“People were captivated by Ann Romney,” she explained. “They saw the human side of her. I think it was a very poignant speech. There were a lot of tears in our section after that speech. Chris Christie was fabulous. I liked his no-nonsense approach. Condoleezza Rice hit it out of the park. She didn’t use the teleprompter, she didn’t need it. She is incredibly smart and you could hear a pin drop in the convention hall when she spoke.”
Eckelkamp, who has served as a volunteer advance representative for several Republican presidents and vice presidents, said vice president candidate Paul Ryan delivered a very powerful speech Wednesday night.
“He went about criticizing President Obama in a very respectful and intellectual way. The sense among the Missouri delegation was that when you heard him speak, you know he has a plan — we are going to see some action.”