Presidential candidate Mitt Romney joined the chorus of Republican party leaders calling for Representative Todd Akin to give up his bid for a U.S. Senate seat as the candidate vowed to stay in the race.
Following Akin’s Aug. 19 remarks that “legitimate rape” rarely leads to pregnancy, the chairman of the Republican Party, Reince Priebus, called on him to quit the contest. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, today called on Akin to step aside, as did Senator Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, and several former lawmakers from the state.
“Todd Akin’s comments were offensive and wrong, and he should very seriously consider what course would be in the best interest of our country,” Romney said in a statement. “Today, his fellow Missourians urged him to step aside, and I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race.”
Akin, who has apologized for his comments, has until 5 p.m. today Missouri time to take his name off the ballot without a court order. He said he’ll stay in the race.
“I believe there is a cause here,” Akin, of Missouri, said today on the Mike Huckabee radio show. “Nobody expects us to get every word perfectly” and “we have a message that people understand,” he added, while saying he made a mistake.
The super-political action committee airing ads against the Democratic incumbent, Senator Claire McCaskill, is pulling its commercials. The Republican presidential ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have made their positions known, too.
’On the Defensive’
Akin, 65, is running to oust McCaskill, who is in her first term. Criticism of his remarks has taken center stage as Republicans prepare to hold their nominating convention next week in Tampa, Florida. The flap over his remarks also has given Democrats a fresh line of attack in their election-year theme about a Republican “war on women.”
“It helps the overall Democratic narrative and it puts the Republicans on the defensive,” said David Johnson, a Republican strategist from Atlanta who worked on former U.S. Senator Bob Dole’s presidential bid. The remarks may also be troublesome for Republicans, including in Wisconsin and North Dakota, Johnson said.
Shortly before Akin’s announcement that he will stay in the race, Blunt issued a statement with former Missouri Republican Senators John Ashcroft, Kit Bond, John Danforth and Jim Talent calling for Akin to step aside.
“We do not believe it serves the national interest for Congressman Todd Akin to stay in this race. The issues at stake are too big, and this election is simply too important. The right decision is to step aside.”
McConnell, who yesterday condemned Akin’s remarks, today said “it is time for Congressman Akin to step aside.”
“Congressman Akin made a deeply offensive error at a time when his candidacy carries great consequence for the future of our country,” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said in a statement. “In his heart of hearts, I’m certain that he is sincerely sorry for what he said but in this instance, when the future of our country is at stake, sorry is not sufficient.”
Senator John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the Republican Party’s Senate campaign committee, yesterday urged Akin to “carefully consider” whether he should stay in the race. Cornyn told Akin that he’s hurting Republican efforts to win a Senate majority and that the national party wouldn’t spend money to help elect him, according to an aide to the committee who asked not to be identified and wasn’t authorized to comment publicly.
The criticism came swiftly after Akin said in an interview aired on the Fox affiliate in St. Louis on Aug. 19 that abortion shouldn’t be allowed in rape cases, in part because pregnancy was unlikely to result.
“From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Akin, who has served in the U.S. House since 2001, said in the interview. “If it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Akin later apologized.
The remarks were condemned by both parties’ presidential candidates. Romney yesterday told National Review Online that Akin’s words were “insulting, inexcusable and frankly, wrong,” without calling for him to step aside.
President Barack Obama made a rare appearance yesterday at the daily White House reporters’ briefing and castigated Akin, calling his remarks “offensive.”
Instead of stepping aside, Akin has sought forgiveness. With a 30-second ad opening with a picture of the congressman and his wife, Akin made a solo and personal appeal to voters in Missouri: “Rape is an evil act,” Akin says to the camera.
“I used the wrong words in the wrong way, and for that I apologize,” he said, noting that he is the father of two daughters and wants “tough justice” for any “predators,” while holding compassion for any victims.
Akin leads McCaskill by one point, 44 to 43 percent, according to a Public Policy Polling survey taken between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. U.S. Central Standard Time last night. It’s similar to a poll taken in late May, which found Akin ahead by a 45-44 spread.
Romney is seeking to unite his party and woo voters by focusing the presidential election on U.S. economy and jobs after his choice of Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who heads the House Budget Committee, as his running mate.
Akin’s comments have reignited a debate over women’s health and Democrats drew parallels between Akin and Ryan, who cosponsored last year with Akin two measures restricting the definition of rape.
The bills would have prohibited federal funds from being used for abortion, except under certain conditions, with both bills as initially drafted using the term “forcible rape” as an exception to the funding ban.
While the legislation didn’t explain the difference between rape and forcible rape, the word “forcible” was removed from each bill in committee by amendments from Republicans after criticism from Democratic lawmakers and reproductive-rights groups.
Both bills passed the House and aren’t expected to advance in the Democratic-led Senate. The White House “strongly opposes” each measure.
The Obama campaign is seeking to prevent Romney from narrowing a gap in support from women voters. Women, who generally favor Democratic candidates, accounted for 53 percent of the electorate in 2008 and backed Obama over Republican nominee John McCain by 56 percent to 43 percent, according to a national exit poll.
About 58 percent of women said they have a favorable impression of Obama, compared with 36 percent who said the same about Romney, in an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted Aug. 1-5. Among men surveyed, 47 percent said they view Obama favorably and 44 percent view Romney favorably.
As the Akin remarks dominated the headlines, Obama sought during yesterday’s White House briefing to draw a contrast with the Republican Party on women’s health.
“The underlying notion that we should be making decisions on behalf of women for their health care decisions -- or qualifying forcible rape versus non-forcible rape -- I think those are broader issues, and that is a significant difference in approach between me and the other party,” Obama said.
The Democratic National Committee sent an e-mail titled “Stunningly Backward” to supporters. “Now, Akin’s choice of words isn’t the real issue here,” wrote Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the DNC chairwoman. “The real issue is a Republican party -- led by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan -- whose policies on women and their health are dangerously wrong.”
The Obama campaign has also been running ads for several weeks featuring a woman named Jenni saying “it’s a scary time to be a woman” and calling Romney “just so out of touch” on issues including abortion and insurance coverage for contraception.
Some Republicans said Akin’s remarks won’t end up benefiting the Democrats in the presidential campaign.
“Democrats are mistaken if they believe an attack on life or a full-throated defense of abortion would accrue to their political benefit in this cycle,” said Republican strategist Mary Matalin, a former adviser to President George W. Bush’s administration. “They could make it part of their base- energizing effort, but this electorate does not want to have an election about abortion.”
Akin beat St. Louis businessman John Brunner and former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman in a Republican primary on Aug. 7. Republicans have produced negative ads tying McCaskill to Obama, whose popularity has fallen in the state.
In an e-mailed statement, McCaskill called Akin’s comments “offensive.”
“It is beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape,” she said.
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