Within hours of a deadline to withdraw from the race, Missouri U.S. Senate hopeful Todd Akin appeared determined to stay in and he received a boost with news that some Tea Party-linked conservatives are considering giving him financial support.
Akin has come under pressure to quit from fellow Republicans over his controversial remarks on rape. In a sign of defiance, Akin was due to start a bus tour across the state on Tuesday to emphasize he will not file a motion with a local court by a 5 p.m. deadline to quit the race.
The Missouri senate race is a crucial one for Republicans who need a net gain of four seats to ensure a majority in the U.S. upper house.
Akin was pilloried, and top Republicans including presidential candidate Mitt Romney asked him to step down, after he said in August that women have natural defenses against pregnancy from "legitimate rape." Major Republican donors cut off funding for his campaign in an effort to force him out.
Before the rape comments, Akin had a much as a double-digit lead in polls over incumbent Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, who is unpopular in a state trending conservative.
After the comments, Akin's support sank and the latest Real Clear Politics average of polls shows McCaskill with a lead of about five points.
Akin's determination to stay in the race has stirred speculation about whether Republican groups who pulled funding from his campaign will now return to his side.
"Round 2 starts at tonight at 5:01 and money will come back to him," said Roy Temple, a Democratic consultant who has worked on many statewide campaigns but is not employed by McCaskill. "If they think he can will, they will put in whatever money it takes."
The Senate Conservatives Fund, backed by U.S. Senate Tea Party kingmaker Jim DeMint of South Carolina, is considering backing Akin now that he will stay on the ballot, fund director Matt Hoskins said. Hoskins sent an email Tuesday to the fund's 100,000 or so members asking if Akin should get support.
"Congressman Akin may still be able to win this race even after all of the attacks from the liberal media and the Republican establishment," Hoskins said in the email, a copy of which was given to Reuters.
"This isn't the first time the Republican establishment has attacked and abandoned a conservative nominee... but we've helped candidates win races without their support before, and we can do it again if we're willing to fight," Hoskins wrote.
The Senate Conservatives Fund has donated as much as $2.1 million to Senate candidates around the country this year, with the top amount going to Ted Cruz in Texas, who supports the Tea Party cause of reducing the size of the federal government, according to the fund's website.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has formally withheld support for Akin. On Sunday, Republican party chairman Reince Priebus vowed on ABC's 'This Week' that "we're not going to play in Missouri with Todd Akin."
Caitlin Legacki, spokeswoman for the McCaskill campaign, said she doesn't expect the candidate's message to change with the passing of the deadline for Akin to withdraw.
"There has been no shortage of distinctions drawn between Claire McCaskill and Todd Akin," Legacki said Tuesday. "We will continue working as if we are running from behind."
The Akin campaign did not immediately return requests for comment on Tuesday.
© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.