What's keeping Todd Akin in Senate race? (+video)
Republican Senate contender Todd Akin expressed a determination to stay in the race, even amidst advice from others in his party to step down. He says his comments relating to rape boil down to 'one word in one sentence on one day.'
KANSAS CITY, Mo.
â€śLet me just make it clear: Weâ€™re not getting out of this race,â€ťÂ AkinÂ said on a conservative St. Louis radio show. â€śIâ€™m in this for the long haul, and weâ€™re going to win it.â€ť
The unprecedented onslaught spurred by his weekend comments about rape victims came from the highest reaches of the Republican Party and raised new doubts about whetherÂ Akinâ€™sÂ campaign could recover.
Even GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney called forÂ AkinÂ to withdraw. So did U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouriâ€™s highest elected Republican, and four former senators from Missouri: John Ashcroft, Jack Danforth, Kit Bond and Jim Talent.
Major GOP fundraisers, including Crossroads GPS, pledged again to abandonÂ Akinâ€™sÂ campaign. So did the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. And top party officials askedÂ AkinÂ not to attend next weekâ€™s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
But through it all,Â AkinÂ held firm, blaming his fall from party grace on â€śone word in one sentence on one day.â€ť That, he said, was a reference to his use of the word â€ślegitimateâ€ť in response to a TV interviewerâ€™s question Sunday about whether he supports abortion even in cases of rape.
â€śIf itâ€™s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,â€ťÂ AkinÂ said that day in comments that triggered a national firestorm. He later said he misspoke and apologized.
ButÂ AkinÂ didnâ€™t comment Tuesday on the â€śfemale body has ways to shut that whole thing downâ€ť part of his statement, which was widely debunked by womenâ€™s groups in Missouri and nationwide.
Romney attempted to distance himself for the second straight day from the remarks that the Republican Party fears could further weaken its standing with women.
â€śToddÂ Akinâ€™sÂ comments were offensive and wrong, and he should very seriously consider what course would be in the best interest of our country,â€ť Romney said. â€śToday, his fellow Missourians urged him to step aside, and I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race.â€ť
The group of Missouriâ€™s Republican senators â€” current and former â€” were just as direct, sayingÂ Akinâ€™s comments about rape victims were â€śtotally unacceptableâ€ť and thatÂ AkinÂ must step down.
â€śWe do not believe it serves the national interest for Congressman ToddÂ AkinÂ to stay in this race,â€ť they said in a statement. â€śThe issues at stake are too big, and this election is simply too important. The right decision is to step aside.â€ť
No less than control of the U.S. Senate could hang in the balance. Many political observers maintain that Republicans must oust Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill in November to have a shot at retaking the chamber they last held in 2007.
ButÂ AkinÂ ignored a 5 p.m. deadline Tuesday that marked the last time he could withdraw without involving the courts.
He can still step down before Sept. 25, state officials said, but he would then have to ask a court to order the state to remove his name from the ballot. His campaign, or presumably the state party, would still be liable for covering the cost of reprinting any ballots with his name on them.
Missouri law states that the court issues a removal order. Some Democrats said ifÂ AkinÂ withdraws, they might challenge him in court to further confuse matters for the GOP, which would pick a replacement to run against McCaskill.
After Tuesdayâ€™s deadline passed, a McCaskill spokesman said that the choice betweenÂ AkinÂ and McCaskill â€śis stark, and Missouri voters will get to decide who will be on their side in the U.S. Senate.â€ť
Democrats also branded the GOP plank on abortion that was adopted Tuesday in Tampa as the â€śAkinÂ plank.â€ť The plank, as it has since 2004, declares support for a constitutional amendment establishing that human life begins at conception.
A new SurveyUSA poll Tuesday determined that 54 percent of Missourians thinkÂ AkinÂ should drop out of the race.
But not all of the dayâ€™s developments were bad news forÂ Akin, a six-term congressman from the St. Louis area. The Democratic polling business Public Policy Polling released a new survey that showedÂ AkinÂ leading McCaskill, but by a single point â€” 44-43 percent â€” a finding thatÂ AkinÂ said showed that he was remaining competitive, despite all the negative attention.
Meanwhile,Â Akin, who declined to comment for this story, released a new TV ad that showed him looking directly into the camera and asking voters for forgiveness.
â€śRape is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way, and for that I apologize,â€ť he says in the spot. â€śI have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault.â€ť
He also rebuffed his own remark in the TV interview by saying in the ad, â€śThe fact is, rape can lead to pregnancy. The mistake I made is in the words I said, not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness.â€ť
Some Republicans acknowledged that the direct, eyes-on-the-camera ad was effective. And for the first time several conservative Republicans stepped forward to supportÂ Akin.
â€śToddÂ AkinÂ is a strong Christian man with a wonderful family,â€ť U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa told a TV station. â€śI think this election should be about how did ToddÂ AkinÂ vote, and what did he vote for, what did he stand for. And in this case Iâ€™m seeing the same thing â€” petty personal attacks substituting for strong policy.â€ť
In eastern Jackson County, Mo., at Truman Road and Missouri 291, supporter Ellen Bishop of Buckner on Tuesday removed a pair of 4-by-8 footÂ AkinÂ campaign signs that had been vandalized prior to the candidateâ€™s controversial remarks. She pledged to return them in late September or early October. She said sheâ€™s standing byÂ Akin, but is unhappy with the Republican Party for abandoning him.
â€śIâ€™m discouraged by the Republican Partyâ€™s response because anyone who knows ToddÂ AkinÂ knows that at no point did he say rape was lawful in some way,â€ť Bishop said. â€śThe man has represented our state for 12 years. You canâ€™t choose a better guy to come up against the McCaskill-Obama team.â€ť
By dayâ€™s end, however, not one prominent GOP elected official in Missouri had stepped forward to defendÂ Akin, and some Republicans said privately that the continuing focus onÂ AkinÂ is distracting Republicans from what they want to focus on â€” the economy, the lack of jobs and President Barack Obamaâ€™s performance in office.
Democratic operatives were keeping a tally of which Republican officials had denouncedÂ Akin, and which had yet to do so.
Political observers around Missouri, and even the head of the Republican National Committee, continued to express doubt about whetherÂ AkinÂ can mount an effective campaign. Although several pointed out the race remains close â€” and might be all the way through Election Day â€” the long-term prospects forÂ Akinâ€™sÂ campaign were dubious.
They said he likely will have little money, heâ€™ll be shunned by Republican office-holders and removing the spotlight from his controversial rape remarks will be difficult, if not impossible.
James Staab, a political scientist at the University of Central Missouri, added, â€śItâ€™s going to be very difficult to turn it around.â€ť
â€śI mean, weâ€™re not going to send any money toward that race or spend money on the ground in that particular race,â€ť Priebus said. â€śIâ€™ve already called off the phone banks and all of the volunteers for CongressmanÂ Akinâ€™srace there.â€ť
But former Missouri GOP chairman Woody Cozad countered that no race 10 weeks before Election Day is over.
â€śNothingâ€™s beyond repair,â€ť Cozad said. â€śHe is not damaged beyond repair because thatâ€™s hard to do in American politics. Claire McCaskill is damaged goods.â€ť
Carl Bearden, a former state lawmaker who now heads the conservative lobbying group United for Missouri, saidÂ AkinÂ can survive if he can get through the next few weeks.
â€śThe key is toâ€¦keep focused on the economy and why Missouri is not being well served by Senator McCaskill supporting the Obama agenda.
â€śHis problem will be if the money really does dry up, how does he get his message out?â€ť