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Why Missouri conservatives are rallying around Todd Akin

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"At first I felt (Akin's comments) were offensive to women and insulting to my intelligence," said Lisa Payne-Naeger, a member of the conservative Missouri Grassroots Coalition, who has an online political radio show. "What changed it for me was the Republican establishment's effort to chop him off at the knees and install one of their own in the race."

Payne-Naeger said she was so angered by the "onslaught" from party leaders that she donated to Akin's campaign on Wednesday.

Nearly two dozen Missouri Republicans interviewed on Wednesday and Thursday, most in the St. Louis area, but some in other parts of the state, expressed similar views.

Akin has seized on this theme, launching a "Help Todd Fight Back Against the Party Bosses" fundraising drive that his campaign said netted $100,000 in small donations this week.

Holding onto the Republican base of support is key to Akin's political survival, although he faces more major obstacles to defeating Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill in November.

A poll by Republican group Rasmussen Reports released on Thursday gave McCaskill a 10-point lead over Akin, whose lead in other polls was as much as 11 points before the rape comments.

"Akin faces more of an uphill race now," said Jay Dow, a political scientist at the University of Missouri in Columbia. "The question is whether moderate Republicans will turn out."

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